- Cotton Eye Joe – Rednex – 3 weeks, January 8th to January 28th
Starting off the year we’ve got a group performing a dance song cover of a traditional Southern number – from Sweden. Hoooooo boy.
Cotton Eye Joe may surprise you by the fact that it dates back from at least before the American Civil War as it’s been so firmly entrenched by this earworm of a rendition from the Swedish group Rednex. It’s unsurprising why this version was such a massive dance hit as it features a thumping drum beat and high energy instrumental performances from the fiddle and the bassline, which gives Cotton Eye Joe a high falootin’ attitude to it (I do indeed feel dopier having written that, don’t worry). However, things fall flat when the guitar enters as it sounds just absolutely horrible, utterly tinny and sounding as though it was squeezed through a dozen computer programmes. As for the vocals the main male vocals that sing the chorus are serviceable if not rather repetitive whilst the female vocalist who sings the ostensible verses squawk through the song in a way that’s not too dissimilar to Whigfield’s Saturday Night and are just as annoying. Ultimately Cotton Eye Joe is a guilty pleasure in the true sense – it’s absolutely ridiculous, a bit repetitive and has not great vocals, but it has a great sense of fun to it and makes you want to get up and dance, even if you’re laughing at the song instead of laughing with it. Though I can’t call it a particularly good song it is by all accounts an enjoyable song.
- Think Twice – Celine Dion – 7 weeks, January 29th to March 18th
It should probably be clear that the UK Singles Chart don’t work in the same way that the US Billboard Singles Chart does. Not only do the US not propel shitty novelty songs to the top spot on a regular basis and not do the whole Christmas number one thing, they also have a tendency to have slow burning number ones where it takes a while for songs to reach the summit, rather than the general straight at the top and then off again strategy that the UK does. So it’s interesting then that we have an example of a song that took a ridiculously long time to get to number 1 in Britain – Think Twice was initially released in early October 1994 and languished around near the bottom of the top 40 for a few weeks before climbing up into the top 10 and the top 5. Then finally, in its sixteenth week of release it finally achieved the pole position, and then stayed there for over a month and a half. If ever there was a time where the UK charts were similar to the US charts, it was now (slightly ironic since Think Twice flopped in the States).
Thanks to all the slushy ballads that she’s appeared on over the years Celine Dion has become a whipping post in the world of popular music and, along with Bryan Adams, is one of the many punchlines for jokes about Canada. This therefore makes it all the more surprising to hear that Think Twice is a decent song, a little cheesy, of course, but an actively solid ballad. Dion of course injects her almost overearnest vocal style throughout the entire thing, demonstrating the power held in her lungs all throughout. It’s not subtle at all, not even in the softer opening of the song let alone the more bombastic second verse onwards, but it shows how she has a fairly strong voice, at least in terms of her ability to be incredibly loud whilst singing. But pulling this up from a standard Celine Dion ballad is the music; this is one of the few times where she’s flirted with soft rock (the only other time I can think of is her rendition of It’s All Coming Back to Me Now) and it’s genuinely effective. After a slow subdued entrance reliant on soft keyboards, the drums burst in and the guitars become much more prominent, especially on the second chorus as they provide an undercurrent to the rest of the song. Then we get the thing that you probably never expected on a Celine Dion song – a guitar solo. And it’s a decent one too, not amazingly flashy or long but strong in the way that it can propel a soft rock song up a bit. This leads to Think Twice being a surprisingly effective song by an artist much maligned by time, a sign that Celine Dion could interact pretty well with a slightly harder sounding song. Too bad there weren’t many other songs like this one in her oeuvre.
- Love Can Build a Bridge – Cher, Chrissie Hynde and Neneh Cherry with Eric Clapton – 1 week, March 19th to March 25th
Comic Relief singles had garnered the reputation for being pieces of absolute drivel by the time the 1995. The formula of taking some comedy characters and maybe a band and letting them do stupidly unfunny jokes had led to many a nightmare of a song, whether it be the aforementioned The Stonk, a cover of Help by Bananarama and French & Saunders (under the name Lananeeneenoonoo), and Saunders returning with Joanna Lumley and teaming up with the Pet Shop Boys for Absolutely Fabulous. All of a sudden the tide changed for the 1995 Comic Relief single as we had three titanic ladies of pop music coming together on one number, accompanied by an absolute legend of a guitarist making his only appearance on a UK number one single. Suddenly the tone became more serious, as if to remind you that underneath all the joking of the Comic Relief telethon there were serious causes that they were trying to raise money for.
It’s not a whole lot better than the comedy singles. Less painful because of no naff jokes but utterly tiring in its po-faced seriousness, seen right away in the video which shows starving African kids as the slow piano intro to the song starts up. A cover of the song by The Judds, both Hynde and Cher deliver the lyrics with a mournful quality that aims to be emotional but feels just tired and leaden thanks to the overserious nature of this song. Cherry meanwhile feels like a waste of space on the song, taking a backseat to the other two, fading into the chorus and generally being pretty weak in her delivery. Not even Eric Clapton can save this song from being a completely dull number – his solo is OK but far from his best and it feels rather out of place in the rest of the song. This all adds up to Love Can Build a Bridge being an incredibly lethargic number and a depressingly out of place contrast to the Comic Relief shenanigans that occur in the telethon. It’s better than most of the terrible comedy singles, but that’s a backhanded compliment in the greatest sense of the word.
- Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle) – Outhere Brothers – 1 week, March 26th to April 1st
Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle) may be the number one so far that managed to make me hate it in the quickest time – the song begins right away with singer Keith Mayberry bellowing out “BIATCHHHHHHH!” in an absolutely horrible tone of voice. His voice is hard to describe – it’s low pitched but has a bit of a high squeaky quality that makes it sound a bit like he’s drunk. It’s hard to put it into words but to me his vocals are like an absolute dog whistle of awfulness. And the entirety of Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle) is like this as he never shuts up throughout the entire song – whether it’s bursting throughout the banal and stupid lyrics of the title (seriously, Wiggle Wiggle? That’s what you’re gonna fucking go with?) or suddenly shouting the word ‘ENERGY!’ over and over getting louder as his. This might take the cake of being the absolutely worst sung number of the 1990s and is an absolute chore to get through – the song’s only three minutes long and it feels like an eternity thanks to how repetitive and annoying it is. Yet it’s surprisingly low energy too, thanks to the rubbish music, which has no tune and simply has the drums pounding along. It makes the song feel even more like a pointless vehicle for the absolutely atrocious vocals and turns it into one of the least enjoyable dance numbers I’ve ever listened to. This all adds up to Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle) being an absolutely atrocious song that’s torpedoed almost entirely by its vocals.
- Back for Good – Take That – 4 weeks, April 2nd to April 29th
Whilst Take That had made a stab at a more grown up pop ballad in the form of Babe back in 1993, Back for Good feels like their most concerted effort to show how they’d matured from the cheeky lads who did fun dance pop into more serious men who could aim for emotional resonance. Whilst I personally prefer the fun dance pop myself, Back for Good is a fairly solid stab at maturity from Gary Barlow and the boys. The guitars provide a solid melody with its light and wistful nature that suits the nostalgic themes of the song and are nicely accompanied by some light strings, though the drum machines clunking sound very out of place with the fresh instruments of the rest of the song. Barlow delivers a pretty good vocal performance, delivering the bittersweet lyrics concerning the singer’s desire to have the love of his life come back to him; his delivery helps to make the song swing more towards the sweet end of the bittersweet spectrum, assisted deftly by the anthemic backing vocals from his fellow band mates. This helps Back for Good become a strong ballad from Take That and showed that they had a truly sweet and sensitive side to their songwriting that worked very well for them.
- Some Might Say – Oasis – 1 week, April 30th to May 6th
Oh, fuck yes, Oasis. One of the biggest keystones of Britpop, they had burst onto the scene in 1994 with such amazing bombast and swagger with their absolutely sterling debut album Definitely Maybe, still the best record of their lifespan with classics like Rock ‘n’ Roll Star, Supersonic and Cigarettes & Alcohol. Though they took more than a little bit from songs by other bands (Shakermaker and Whatever both landed the band in legal trouble for plagiarism) and their inspiration from The Beatles was ridiculously obvious but the infectious guitar work by Noel Gallagher and the silly but fun vocals from his little brother Liam meant that Oasis were standing on top of the world by the beginning of 1995 and, in Noel’s words, found that achievement was a piece of piss. And they were about to get even bigger.
(What’s the Story) Morning Glory managed to convert the rare Brit who hadn’t been won over by Definitely Maybe and went on to become the biggest selling album of the 90s, bolstered by epic rockers like Hey Now and Morning Glory, as well as swirling ballads like Champagne Supernova and Cast No Shadow. Front of the pack was lead single Some Might Say, the first tune that got these Mancunians with a sibling rivalry issue to the top spot. It’s a song that blasts on all cylinders right from the get go with the epic guitar riff and tambourine kicking off the song in style and rocking like all hell. Liam’s vocals have been mocked for its odd pronunciation work and it is present here, with his infamous pronunciation of shine (rendered as “shee-yine”) but his Mancunian snarl is greatly effective in the almost working class stomp of the song (though he is overshadowed a bit by the backing vocals from Noel near the end of the song, who’s easily the better vocalist of the two). This can be best seen in the song’s chorus where he pumps out the words with great panache as the rest of the band go into overdrive to bring the song’s anthemic qualities up another couple of notches. The little guitar improvisations from Noel and Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs help to pull up Some Might Say’s hard rocking nature to eleven and we end up with a song that shows just why Oasis were such a massive force of nature, especially in the 1990s. They took epic riffs and glorious sing-along lyrics to their absolute limit and created anthems that are just so incredibly fun to listen to, and Some Might Say just demonstrates their power.
- Dreamer – Livin’ Joy – 1 week, May 7th to May 13th
Yet again we come to another dance song that would see its fortunes change drastically from its original release – I guarantee that we’re going to be seeing far less of these songs later on down the road. After peaking at number 18 in 1994, Dreamer was remixed a bit and eventually got the Italian group Livin’ Joy to the top spot in the UK, if only for a little bit of time. It’s not surprising why it managed to get up to the peak position as it’s a rather solid dance song, taking on elements of house and Eurodance. Most notable is the song’s melody and production, which is very strong. The song hits you with a gloriously heavy bass that makes the song feel wonderfully full and exciting, whilst the simple melody on the keyboard is upbeat and inviting, making Dreamer a top notch song to get up and dance to. The entrance of the organs following the first verse make things all the better. The vocals from Janice Robertson are pretty strong overall, though there are one or two places where her singing is a little bit shrill (particularly where she sings “I’m a DREAAMERRRRRRRR!!!!”), and the lyrics are good, fun and upbeat in their nature about enjoying life to the fullest. This helps Dreamer to be a well-deserved dance number one, showing the skills of Livin’ Joy in crafting a very strongly produced and catchy tune.
- Unchained Melody/(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover – Robson and Jerome – 7 weeks, May 14th to July 1st, biggest selling single of the year
I was dreading this day for months and months. The day in which I would have to confront the most evil figure in music. Ladies and gentlemen – Mr. Simon Cowell.
Previously in his career the Lucifer of pop music had been busy producing novelty singles for Irish puppet characters Zig and Zag, the Power Rangers and members of the World Wrestling Federation, which really should give you an idea of his approach to the music industry, using it as simply a tool to make himself as much money as possible. I’m not stupid, I know that everybody needs to make money in the music industry and if musicians didn’t make money they wouldn’t be able to produce more music – I totally get that. But there really isn’t anybody in the musical industry more cynical about this goal than Cowell. After those songs Cowell set his sights upon Robson Greene and Jerome Flynn, the starring duo of TV war drama Soldier Soldier (no, I haven’t seen the show and I have fuck all interest in watching it after having to put up with seven songs from these muppets). After an episode that aired in November 1994 saw their characters perform a rendition of Unchained Melody Cowell saw pound signs in his eyes and went after the duo to sign them up, being insistent to the point where Greene almost filed legal charges to stop Cowell from harassing them. Finally they agreed to sign up and with Mike Stock and Matt Aitken producing (I thought I was done with these bozos back in 1990…) the single was released, timed cannily for the 50th anniversary of VE Day in Britain (the wartime elements of the show must have confused people into thinking that Soldier Soldier was a World War II show). And it clicked immediately – not only did Unchained Melody (and nominal double A-side White Cliffs of Dover) go to number one for seven weeks, it also racked up the highest first week of single sales ever to that point and became not just the year’s biggest seller but the second biggest selling single of the 1990s.
My real question is this – why? Why did the general public fall for a cheap karaoke version of old songs sung by two blokes who were probably nice enough but couldn’t hold much in their voices, letting it beat out far superior songs like Common People by Pulp and Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me by U2? The choice of the song Unchained Melody isn’t the problem here – we’ve seen it before in a much better rendition by The Righteous Brothers (the very sappy war song White Cliffs of Dover is much more objectionable though). It’s the delivery – neither Greene nor Flynn have any sort of charisma in their voices and are incredibly nasal as they spurt out the lyrics, giving it a sense that all that they are doing is cheap karaoke. The song almost knows their limitations, fading them out whenever we get to the biggest notes of the songs. Even worse than that is the horrendous instruments which create even more the cheap karaoke feel of the single. It sounds as though every instrument has been fed through a computer as the drum machines clatter along and the keyboards sound as though they came straight from a cheap Yamaha keyboard. White Cliffs of Dover in particularly has nauseating keyboard notes and synthesised strings to make things much worse.
This is such a strange record. It has sold so much, nearly two million in the UK, and yet it has had absolutely zero impact on the world of music and has generally been buried by the sands of time. This is likely mainly because all this single adds up to is glorified pub karaoke with feeble vocals and dreadfully cheap instruments. And the worst thing about this single is not the fact that both songs are dreadful and dull – it’s the fact that it gave Simon Cowell his first million seller and propelled him to the musical A-list. That’s a crime that you can’t atone for.
- Boom Boom Boom – Outhere Brothers – 4 weeks, July 2nd to July 29th
I’ll give Boom Boom Boom this; at least it isn’t anywhere near as atrocious as Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle). It’s frankly a million times better as a lot of the most terrible things about that song are absent or toned down significantly. The vocals from Keith Mayberry are much better this time around, especially on the chorus; he no longer sounds like an idiotic drunkard and instead has a more full quality to his voice. Speaking of more full qualities, the music is far better, having an actual attempt to a melody this time around it and having a much fuller sound with the thumping bass that goes along nicely with the chorus. There are still some obvious problems with the song though; the lyrics of the verses are still filled with juvenile sex references which are very dumb and the rap following the second verse is poorly done with a weak flow to it. Additionally, the keyboard has a slightly annoying tone to it with its low pitched squelchy qualities to it, which is a pain given that it runs throughout the entire song. And the song’s still frankly too long, especially near the end where the chorus is repeated over and over. However, though Boom Boom Boom isn’t great by any means, it is still a massive step up in quality from the previous single by the Outhere Brothers and feels almost like it’s trying to be a real song this time instead of an excruciating exercise in pain to your eardrums.
- Never Forget – Take That – 3 weeks, July 30th to August 19th
There’s a strange feeling to Never Forget. There was no way that Gary Barlow and the rest of the boys would know that Robbie Williams would leave Take That not long before this single was released, especially since this song had been on the Nobody Else LP for a good two months before his departure. And yet the song has an aura of finality to it, a sense that it knows that the group was coming to their end (at least for the time being). And as such it’s a song that operates much better as a farewell single then their actual farewell song (more on that in the next episode). Of their 90s singles it’s comfortably their most grandiose and epic, mainly thanks to the fact that it was produced by a certain Jim Steinman. It starts off with a horn section before bursting into vocals from some choirboys, showing the grand style of the song. Howard Donald sings this time around and he does a solid job in the singer’s seat, giving the song the reflective quality that it demonstrates in the lyrics. He helps to make Never Forget warm and nostalgic whilst also being fairly sombre, another way this song became strangely sadder thanks to Robbie’s departure. The chorus meanwhile is upbeat and rousing, featuring all of the group and the female soul-sounding backing vocalists blasting out the lyrics in an almost choral fashion and shows how the song attempts to be anthemic and succeeds marvellously. Robbie meanwhile adds on a strong performance in his brief solo role as the song nears its end, showing his star quality well. Though the song runs long, nearly six and a half minutes, it never feels that length and serves as a glorious send-off to Take That in the 90s, being sad in its nostalgic undertones yet exultant with its full production and rousing nature. If this was the final single by the band before their split then it would be one hell of a send-off single. But it wasn’t, and the true breakup single would be substantially less epic. But that’s for another time…
- Country House – Blur – 2 weeks, August 20th to September 2nd
And so we come to one of the biggest chart battles in Britain of all time – perhaps the most notable aside from maybe a couple of Christmas slugouts – the Battle of Britpop. A competition between the two titans of the genre, Oasis with Roll with It and Blur with Country House. Barbs were traded between both sides, including Noel Gallagher’s infamous declaration that he wished that Blur singer Damon Albarn would “catch AIDS and die”, whilst newspapers hyped it up partly as a battle of class divides and North vs. South – the working class Mancunians Oasis were taking on middle class Colchestrians Blur. And in the end it was Blur who eked out a victory, getting their very first number one with the leadoff single from their upcoming album The Great Escape, but it was Oasis who won the war between the two in the end; (What’s the Story) Morning Glory became the biggest selling album of the decade and Albarn has since expressed disappointment over The Great Escape (personally speaking I reckon it’s still a solid album – just not as strong as their previous albums Modern Life Is Rubbish and Parklife).
Question is, did Country House deserve to beat out Roll with It? I’d say so. It’s a gleefully fun and upbeat song from the moment it begins, with the horns and guitars complimenting each other nicely. Albarn injects his usual style of vocals to the satirical lyrics about a man choosing to move out of his old city life to live in a house, a very big house in the country (a theme inspired by the retirement of Blur’s former record manager). The slightly silly nature of the lyrics work well with Damon’s Cockney sounding voice and makes Country House all the more entertaining. Though the guitar solo from Graham Coxon isn’t the most thrilling it’s still OK, whilst the choral middle eight gives the song more of an anthemic quality, whilst making the song a bit more melancholic in the middle of the silliness. All of this adds up to a strong song from Blur; not the best they’ve done, not even the best number on The Great Escape, but a solid entry to their sterling catalogue and a worthy song to beat out Roll with It.
- You Are Not Alone – Michael Jackson – 2 weeks, September 3rd to September 16th
His death must have had some people reappraising it but starting in the mid-90s following the Dangerous album Michael Jackson got shit. After the first rounds of child molestation allegations his personal life began to mushroom to the point of overshadowing his professional life and from then on the King of Pop wouldn’t be the same again for the rest of his life. At the same time Michael began to get incredibly overindulgent with his music – whilst it had surfaced a bit on Dangerous it really came to the forefront on his next album History: Past, Present and Future, a combination of a greatest hits and a new studio album. God, what a mess this album was. Too many songs, songs that went on for too long, lots of indulgent studio effects and additions on many tracks, sappy ballads… this was the beginning of the end for Jackson.
Many of these issues come to the forefront with You Are Not Alone, a song written by a certain R. Kelly – following a sappy sounding intro with horns, strings and a tinkly piano, the song itself clunks in with a dull sounding drum machine and a slow, low and boring piano line. Whilst Michael isn’t at the nadir of his vocal abilities here, he is fairly weak on this song, having an obnoxious simper to his tones, trying to make the listener feel emotion but falling flat from his tryhard attempts. Then he again he doesn’t have much to work with the lyrics, which are sugary sweet in their themes of loving another despite being far apart. And the song is just far too long, and is so boring that it doesn’t justify its near six minute runtime. The truck driver’s gear change isn’t too awful this time around, certainly not his worst, but a second one makes the song excessive as the chorus repeats itself on and on as it plods towards the end to pad out the runtime. And the entrance of choirs feel unearned as the song is just not epic enough to warrant their presence, making it feel more like a case of indulgence on the part of Jackson. This isn’t the worst song off of History (we’ll get to a worse one soon) but it’s hardly one of Jackson’s best and just comes across as treacly, overlong and just plain boring.
- Boombastic – Shaggy – 1 week, September 17th to September 23rd
Shaggy was doing well for himself in 1995 – he’d already had a number one in the UK with Oh Carolina and his rendition of In the Summertime had gotten him a top 5 hit in the summer of 1995. But it was truly the success of the title track to his third studio album Boombastic that helped to make him a household name, thanks in part to its use in, what else, a Levi’s Jeans advert. This puts them at five UK number one singles at this point in our summary, which draws them equal with David Bowie, The Police and Bee Gees. Never underestimate the power of denim.
My disdain for reggae should be well documented on this blog, so it may come as some surprise to you that I quite like Boombastic. It’s obviously goofy as all hell but it has a very fun atmosphere to it that propels it above the vast majority of reggae songs. This is partly thanks to its music being slow in an exotically sensual manner, with guitars providing a strong backbone to overwhelm the standard reggae beats. Shaggy’s vocal performance, like the rest of the song, is very silly; he’s clearly having lots of fun with what he’s got in front of him, smoothly singing the daft innuendos with a lot of enjoyment (he laughs at the lyrics at some points, clearly knowing how silly Boombastic is). This helps to make the song rather infectious in a daft way; it’s obviously no masterpiece, especially as it clatters on a bit with little regard for rhythm, but it’s just an enjoyable song with a strong guitar line and a knowingly enjoyable performance from Shaggy, which helps to make Boombastic a fun silly summer song.
- Fairground – Simply Red – 4 weeks, September 24th to October 21st
Oh, Simply Red. Not many people will admit to liking their music and many will agree that lead singer Mick Hucknall is an absolute prat. And yet their albums are consistently high sellers – Stars was the biggest selling album of not only 1991 but 1992 as well, being the fourteenth biggest seller of all time in Britain. Their follow up record, Life, not only gave them another million or so in album sales but produced their sole trip to the top spot in the UK. Yippee.
Fairground is a bit more dance oriented than previous singles by the band – it samples the drumline from Give It Up by The Goodmen – but overall it demonstrates the qualities, and lack thereof depending on your perspective, of Simply Red. The drum beat clatters along in an oddly out of rhythm manner as the keyboards silently chug along, being drowned out by the percussion. This overall makes the music of Fairground very forgettable as it never comes to the forefront thanks to the clanking drums. Hucknall meanwhile employs his usual tricks on this song, much to my dismay. He goes for his nasal sounding quiet vocals for the verses, which seem to aim for being soulful but come across as a bit woeful. But it’s not as bad as his work on the chorus, where he yells out “And I LOVE THE THOUGHT!!!” in a deeply shrill manner. This is the factor that made him truly an obnoxious force on Simply Red records and Fairground shows it off in spades. Aside from those air raid siren vocals Fairground is an absolutely unmemorable track that basically feels like album filler that clatters along with no real impact, not the lead single to a brand new album. Perhaps if a vocalist other than Hucknall was on this then it could be salvaged, but since we have him on board – it’s a no.
- Gangsta’s Paradise – Coolio and L.V. – 2 weeks, October 22nd to November 4th
Crazy to think but a rap song had not sold a million copies in the UK up until this point. That all changed when Coolio recorded this track as the theme song to Michelle Pfeiffer’s save the students film Dangerous Minds and vastly overshadowed that movie, as many tracks from the 90s are want to do. And it’s hard not to see why as Gangsta’s Paradise is a dark odyssey of sin, a regrettable view by Coolio of the life that he got himself stuck in – the lyrics deliver these themes of sadness and reluctant acceptance of the situation he’s in incredibly well. He manages to be both tough and boastful about his skills in the hood (“I'm the kinda G that little homies wanna be like”) and yet gloomy about his living scenario (“Death ain't nothin' but a heart beat away, I'm livin' life do or die, what can I say?”). All of this is delivered with a strong flow by Coolio and a strong soulful vocal performance on the chorus and bridge, with a choir backing him to make the song much more haunting and anthemic at the same time. And of course, there’s the beat; sampled from Pastime Paradise by the legendary Stevie Wonder (making this the closest time that a Wonder classic from the 70s has topped the charts in Britain) it works well with the rather downbeat chords creating a spooky ambiance to Gangsta’s Paradise. This creates a number that manages to be both badass and sad at the same time, working well with the combination of Coolio’s strong resolve with his rapping and the gloomy lyrics about life in the hood.
- I Believe/Up on the Roof – Robson and Jerome, 4 weeks, November 5th to December 2nd
If there was any doubt about the evil genius nature of Simon Cowell, look at the track list of Robson and Jerome’s self-titled album. You’ll notice that it’s chock full of standards, including Amazing Grace and Danny Boy; the most recent songs to be covered on this album were This Boy by The Beatles and Daydream Believer by The Monkees. Clearly this effort from Cowell not only shows off his lack of originality but also his shrewd business skills; he’s angling at a target audience of baby boomers who would have grown up on songs like these and would therefore appreciate them being taken out for another sing in the modern pop world. It’s an incredibly clever approach and it worked; the album became not only the biggest seller of the year but at the time was the fastest to reach two million copies sold in the UK.
Of course it still can’t mask the fact that this is still essentially two blokes doing karaoke over a terrible backing track and these next two songs bring that out once again. I Believe, a cover of the Frankie Laine song that spent a combined eighteen weeks at the top in the UK (in three separate spells though) has the plonky and metallic sounding pianos trudging along like a rusty machine (with the synthesised sounding horns being an even worse musical addition as the song trucks on) whilst Greene and Flynn nervously try to be strong in their delivery but fail, making it sound like they just popped into the pub for a few pints and feel embarrassed to be dragged onto stage. Up on the Roof meanwhile tries to be upbeat and danceable but fails miserably for the same reason; the pianos sound desperately out of tune and the drum machines sound like they were programmed in a computer system created in the time when Up on the Roof was written (1962, for reference), whilst the non-dynamic duo again do very poorly. This therefore continues to show off the utterly cynical and hollow nature of the Robson and Jerome phenomenon; they were only given music contracts for their brand name and their ability to appeal to older music listeners with no concern for the quality of their musical output. But honestly, why would you expect anything less from Simon Cowell?
- Earth Song – Michael Jackson – 6 weeks, December 3rd to January 13th 1996
February 19th 1996. The BRIT Awards at the Earls Colne Exhibition Centre in London. The point where you could see where Michael Jackson had absolutely jumped the shark. The stage invasion of Jarvis Cocker from Pulp, and subsequent cheers that it received from the British press, demonstrated that the King of Pop was falling off his perch and letting his own powerful image consume him, as he played Jesus Christ round a group of adoring young children. It’s a nauseatingly sappy image that I’m glad was disrupted by the entrance of Mr. Cocker. But ultimately it’s what you’d expect when he was performing a song as horrible as Earth Song.
Michael Jackson couldn’t do save the world songs, full stop. We Are the World and Heal the World are abominable, and I personally despise the ridiculously overrated Man in the Mirror. But Earth Song is the culmination of awfulness, a cloying, syrupy, self-indulgent piece of pap where Michael was clearly trying to show off what a wonderful saviour of a man he was to the world. All the way from beginning to end this is an absolutely cloying number; from the tinkly slow piano lines to Jackson’s weak performance. He’s engaging way too deeply in his simpering whine that bogs down all his worst ballads, best demonstrated with the final line before the chorus where he tries to evoke tears (“Did you ever stop to notice, this crying Earth, the weeping shores?”) but ends up sounding desperately feeble as he bleats out the sappy and hack-handed lyrics that ram the “CARE ABOUT THE EARTH, YOU BASTARDS!!!” message with all the subtlety of a comically oversized jackhammer. The chorus meanwhile is awful, simple squealings of “Ah-aahhhhhh, oooh-oohhhhh” over and over. And then the song goes into irredeemable territory by, of course, the truck driver’s gear change, where the song fulfils another awful trend of Michael’s save the world songs – it just won’t end. This seven minute song descends into the chorus being repeated on and on and on from the three and a half minute mark, punctured by Michael unsubtly crying “WHAT ABOUT [insert thing that we ought to care about but can’t because of how terribly he sells it]?!” ad nauseum. Occasionally there’s a glimpse of unintentional amusement (“WHAT ABOUT ELEPHANTS?!”) but overall Earth Song is an absolutely leaden environmental ballad featuring a terrible performance from Jackson, horrifically unsubtle lyrics and a ridiculous engagement in self-indulgence.
And yet it became not only the Christmas number one in Britain but the biggest selling single of Jackson’s career in the nation. Shame on you, lads. No wonder his career wouldn’t recover until after he died.
FINAL THOUGHTS - 1995 was by no means a great year – but holy cow, it was much more exciting than the dirge of 1994. We had a few solid pop songs this year, as well as a bit of Britpop and hip-hop to really liven things up. But at the same time we saw a terrible dance act, a pop legend going stale and the first big success for Satan himself. In good consciousness I therefore can’t call 1995 a particularly good year for number ones. But the recovery from the dire 94 was starting to come in, and it’d only get better in the next year… 1996 isn’t just great because it was the year of my birth, you know.
- BEST SONG – Gangsta’s Paradise
- WORST SONG – Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle)
Well, that's another year down. As usual, if you want to see more from me, give my Facebook page a like (https://www.facebook.com/CineCynic1996/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel) and maybe you can throw me a few pennies on Patreon if you really liked my stuff (https://www.patreon.com/CineCynic1996). Going to do some more film reviews before we get onto 1996 - you can expect it at either mid-to-late October or, at the latest, November 4th (which is also my sister's birthday). Catch you next time.