1000 Number 2s: 1995, Part 1 – a sample

Posted: August 8, 2016 in Music

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My current spare time project is writing what I hope will ultimately be a book (or books) documenting every number 2 single in the UK – the list has already previously been posted on this blog. As you can see from that post, we have now reached 999 – number 1000 should be around in the next few weeks, but it’s always hard to tell with number 2s.

I decided to work on the book after realising that there was no proper documentation of British number 2s, in contrast to the work that’s been done on British number 1s, including the book by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh which covers the first 1000; my idea for the number 2s book is based on this. There was also a book published by Billboard on US number 2 singles back in 2000, which makes it even more surprising to me that a British equivalent hasn’t been published.

I’ve been working on the project for a few months now, reaching about 20,000 words just for the reviews, and  having done a load of research and established the framework for doing it. But I haven’t shared any of the work with anyone as yet, so I thought it would be useful to get some feedback. Naturally, each single review is pretty brief (I’m aiming for a minimum of 150 words and a maximum of around 500 for each) as anything more than that would be too much considering I have 1000 songs to review, though some interviews with contributing artists is something I’m aiming for when the project’s more advanced. So here are 10 singles I have covered for the year 1995 – I will post the stories of the remaining 10 from that year later in the week.

#583: Boyzone – Love Me for a Reason

Label & Cat No.: Polydor 8512802
Producer: Ray Hedges
Writers: Wade Brown, David Jones Jr, Johnny Bristol
Weeks at No. 2: 1 (1st-7th January 1995)
No. 1: East 17 – Stay Another Day

This was the big breakthrough for Ireland’s first major Irish boyband (well, if you exclude U2, anyway). Boyzone, comprising Keith Duffy, Mikey Graham, Ronan Keating, Shane Lynch and Stephen Gately, had been together as a group for a year by the tail end of 1994. They had been assembled by the flamboyant manager of Johnny Logan, Louis Walsh, in 1993 after a series of auditions in Dublin; auditioning were over 300 young men who had responded to Walsh’s newspaper adverts stating he was looking to create an ‘Irish Take That’. Two of the original six selections for the group left, allowing Graham, who had originally been rejected, to join.

The group spent the next year touring pubs and clubs in an attempt to woo record labels, many of which rejected them. In the end, Polygram signed them up, and would reap the benefits almost immediately. Debut single, a typically 90s dance-pop cover of ‘Working My Way Back to You’, reached #3 in Ireland, prompting their next single to be released in the UK as well.

Both their debut and ‘Love Me for a Reason’ established what would become the pattern for Boyzone of covering former big hits in a more 1990s style. This one was a little less tacky than their first hit, and featured shared lead vocals from Gately and Keating, who was just 17 at the time of the single’s release. Yes, it was done in a contemporary style, complete with the oh-so-90s drum machine and key change at the end (one of those often referred to as a ‘truck driver’s gear change’), but it holds up much better than a lot of the band’s other early releases.

The song itself was originally recorded by Johnny Bristol, best known for his 1974 #3 hit ‘Hang On in There Baby’. However, the best known version, on which Boyzone’s version was based, was recorded by the Osmonds. Released at the peak of their popularity, the single was the group’s only #1 hit in the UK, spending three weeks at the summit in August and September 1974; it was also a #2 in Ireland, where the Boyzone version would reach #1.

Alas, in the UK, the Boyzone version would be held off by another prominent boyband, who would soon decline as quickly as the Irish lads rose to become a commercial juggernaut in the late 1990s. Initially entering the chart at #10, it had climbed to #3 by the week before Christmas behind East 17 and Mariah Carey, before being bumped down #4 by the arrival of ‘Whatever’ by Oasis at #3. It finally reached #2 in the New Year’s Day chart with the songs ahead dropping away, but after this the momentum fizzled out.

With an impressive total of 8 weeks in the top 10, this was one of the most successful debut singles of the boyband era, but not quite enough to match the Osmonds, the band that set the template for the boyband 20 years before.

#584: N-Trance – Set You Free

Label & Cat No.: All Around the World CDGLOBE 126
Producers: N-Trance
Writers: Mike Lewis, Dale Longworth, Kevin O’Toole
Weeks at No. 2: 1 (5th-11th February 1995)
No. 1: Celine Dion – Think Twice

N-Trance were responsible for two of the biggest dance hits of 1995, though both were very different in style. This, the first of the two, was much more in the typical dance style of the first half of the 1990s. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that had taken three years since its germination before becoming a hit.

The British duo Kevin O’Toole and Dale Longworth began working together in 1990, signing to Pete Waterman’s 380 Records a year later. ‘Set You Free’ was first recorded in 1992 with thundering vocals from 16-year-old Slough-born singer Kelly Llorenna, and was released as a limited edition white label single. However, its initial release as a full single wouldn’t take place until 1993, by which point the group had bought themselves out of their 380 contract, joining the relatively young dance label All Around the World. They had also gained a following as a popular live act on the dance circuit. Despite this, it initially failed to chart.

All Around the World initially re-released the original version in 1994, and this time it cracked the top 40, reaching #39. With second single ‘Turn Up the Power’ reaching #23, it was decided to re-record the song for a 1995 release, complete with a low-budget video filmed around Clifford’s Tower in York. This time it soared up the charts. Entering at #6 in January, it spent three weeks at #3 before climbing to its final peak, just behind ‘Think Twice’, itself a slow-burner which dominated the charts in early 1995. A further week at #3 followed before a slow decline. In total, it spent 9 weeks inside the top 10.

There would be one final version in September 2001, a remixed version by Rob Searle which updated it into a 2000s-style trance hit. It took the song back into the top 10 for two weeks, entering at #4. The remix helped resurrect Llorenna’s career, leading to a brief but successful string of solo releases.

#585: Annie Lennox – No More “I Love You’s”

Label & Cat No.: RCA 74321257162
Producer: Stephen Lipson
Writers: Joseph Hughes, David Freeman
Weeks at No. 2: 2 (12th-25th February 1995)
No. 1: Celine Dion – Think Twice

The Lover Speaks were formed in that great musical city Coventry by David Freeman and Joseph Hughes in the mid-1980s. Like many a new wave group, it had formed out of the punk scene; both had been members of group The Flys, which disbanded in 1980. But it wasn’t until 1986 that the new band, along with keyboardist Barry Gilbert, released their self-titled first album and lead single, ‘No More “I Love You’s”‘.

The single failed to make serious headway in the charts, peaking at #58, but evidently it made an impression on Annie Lennox when the band supported Eurythmics on their 1986 world tour. Long after the Lover Speaks had disappeared without fanfare in 1988 (after their record label A&M blocked the release of their second album) and Lennox and Dave Stewart had gone their separate ways, ‘No More “I Love You’s”‘ would re-emerge as the lead single from Lennox’s second solo album.

After the enormous success of her debut solo album Diva in 1992, which sold over a million copies in Britain and 2 million in the US, Lennox compiled a series of cover versions in 1994 for second album Medusa, with recordings of songs from artists as diverse as Al Green, the Clash and Neil Young. Thus, it might be a surprise that the lead single was a version of a relatively obscure 1986 new wave song, by far the lowest profile song on the album.

The new version was very different in tone from the original, with less of a rock edge. It was promoted with a typically bizarre and memorable video, which featured Lennox performing with a group of travesty ballerinas (men dressed as ballet dancers). The single entered at #2 behind ‘Think Twice’, remaining there for a second week before drifting downwards. This would prove to be Lennox’s most successful solo release in the UK, and won the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance a year after its release. Medusa was also a huge success, reaching #1 in the albums chart and matching the US sales of Diva. However, it would be her last solo album for eight years, after taking time out to reunite with Dave Stewart in 1998 for a new Eurythmics album and tour.

#586: MN8 – I’ve Got a Little Something for You

Label & Cat No.: Columbia 6608802
Producers: Dennis Charles, Ronnie Wilson
Writers: Denis Ingoldsby, Mark Taylor
Weeks at No. 2: 1 (26th February-4th March 1995)
No. 1: Celine Dion – Think Twice

Formed in 1992, boyband MN8 (pronounced ’emanate’, obviously) were made up of Kingsley ‘KG’ Goldsmith’, Gary ‘G-Man’ Douglas, Tony ‘Kule T’ Michaels and Dee Tails. Riding the wave of the continuing popularity of new jack swing, they were arguably the most successful new British pop act of 1995, with their first three singles all reaching the UK top 10 and debut album To the Next Level charting at #13.

‘I’ve Got a Little…’ was their debut single, which with its catchy chorus was an immediate hit on release in February 1995. Entering at #7, it took 5 weeks to climb to #2, and would eventually depart the top 10 in late March after 7 weeks there. This would be followed up by the more traditionally-styled ‘If You Only Let Me In’, which peaked at #6, and a cover of the Hi-Tension and Surface song ‘Happy’, which reached #8, marking a positive first year for the band.

However, the last two singles to be released from their first album failed to reach the top 20, and the first releases from second album Freaky failed to live up to expectation: the title of lead single ‘Tuff Act to Follow’ proved prophetic as it stalled at #15. Columbia dropped the group in 1997 and they split the following year. But despite no comeback as yet, you may have seen one member more recently than you may think. After MN8’s demise, Dee Tails moved into acting, and has had cameo roles in Batman Begins and, more recently, Star Wars: The Force Awakens as minor character Cratinus.

#587: Alex Party – Don’t Give Me Your Life

Label & Cat No.: Systematic SYSCD 7
Producers: Alex Natale, Gianni Visnadi, Paolo Visnadi
Writer: Robin ‘Shanie’ Campbell
Weeks at No. 2: 2 (5th-18th March 1995)
No. 1: Celine Dion – Think Twice

Another Italian dance group made an appearance at the top end of the UK singles chart in early 1995, following on from the success of Black Box, 49ers, Cappella and Corona, and just ahead of Livin’ Joy. But while the group’s producers, Alex Natale, Paolo Visnadi and Gianni Visnadi, were all Italian, contributing lyrics and vocals on this particular song was an Englishwoman, Robin ‘Shanie’ Campbell.

‘Don’t Give Me Your Life’ was the group’s second single release, after ‘Alex Party (Saturday Night Party)’, which had initially reached #49 in 1993 and #29 on re-issue in 1994. The instrumental track for the song formed the basis of ‘Don’t Give Me Your Life, to which Campbell’s vocals were added. It was enough to tip the release into a major success, climbing from #10 in February to #2 three weeks later. Like several other #2s in the mid-1990s, it hung around the top end of the chart for a while, spending 8 weeks in the top 10. It also reached #2 in Ireland, but was not a big hit in continental Europe, peaking at #22 in the group’s home country.

This was by far Alex Party’s biggest hit, with follow-up single ‘Wrap Me Up’, again featuring Campbell on vocals, being their only other top 20 hit, reaching #17, though it did reach #2 in Italy. They officially split in 2000.

#588: Perez ‘Prez’ Prado and his Orchestra – Guaglione

Label & Cat No.: RCA 74321250192
Producer: Herman Diaz Jr
Writers: Giuseppe Fanciulli, Nicola ‘Nisa’ Salerno
Weeks at No. 2: 1 (21st-27th May 1995)
No. 1: Robson and Jerome – Unchained Melody / White Cliffs of Dover

Guinness are famed for their slick, memorable advertising campaigns, and the music that has been included is a major part of that, from Leftfield’s ‘Phat Planet’ in the acclaimed advert Surfer (you all know that bassline) to Sammy Davis Jr’s ‘The Rhythm of Life’ in noitulovE (‘evolution’ backwards, if you hadn’t noticed). But in the 1990s, two of their best-known adverts helped launch decades-old tracks into high chart positions. The first was Louis Armstrong’s ‘We Have All the Time in the World’, which reached #3 in late 1994 after its use in one of the Pure Genius adverts. The second was a song that would become particularly associated with the brand.

Success had been a long time coming for ‘Guaglione’ (Neapolitan for ‘boy’), which first recorded in 1956 by singer Aurelio Fierro, whose version won the 1956 Festival di Napoli, after which the publishing rights to the song were bought by Disney, for whom it is now said to be a significant profit-maker. Perez Prado’s instrumental version was recorded in 1958.

The Cuban-born bandleader, known as ‘the King of Mambo’, had been a well-known figure in 1950s music, during which time he had picked up a #1 single on both sides of the Atlantic with his take on ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’ in 1955. But big bands and mambo had declined in popularity after the rise of rock ‘n’ roll, leading Prado out of the spotlight, though he continued to have a long career in showbusiness until his death in his adopted home country of Mexico in 1989 at the age of 72.

It was the 1995 advert Anticipation that gave ‘Guaglione’ its iconic status. As Irish actor Joe McKinney danced around a pint as he waited for it to settle, the catchy mambo song made a clear impression on the public. After the advert’s release in Ireland in 1994, the song hit #1 in the singles chart there. Soon after, it was released in the UK, and again the song climbed the charts.

Like several other #2s around this time, its chart run was another long one. After stints in the lower reaches of the chart since December 1994, it finally emerged at #11 in May 1995, before spending two weeks at #3, a week at #2, and a further week at #3, finally dropping out of the top 10 in June. It’s probably no coincidence that there was a resurgence of interest in mambo after this, culminating in the enormous success of Lou Bega’s #1 hit ‘Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit of…)’, based on another Prado song, in 1999.

Meanwhile, the combination of Anticipation and ‘Guaglione’ became so memorable that in 2004, it was remade with an Eskimo dancing in McKinney’s place to advertise Guinness Extra Cold. Great adverts, like great songs, never go away for good.

#589: Pulp – Common People

Label & Cat No.: Island CID 613
Producer: Chris Thomas
Writers: Nick Banks, Jarvis Cocker, Candida Doyle, Steve Mackey, Russell Senior
Weeks at No. 2: 2 (28th May-10th June 1995)
No. 1: Robson and Jerome – Unchained Melody / White Cliffs of Dover

Perhaps the most notable victim of Robson and Jerome’s million-selling debut single was this classic of the Britpop era. Pulp’s road to this, their breakthrough single, had been long an arduous. Jarvis Cocker had first formed the band with a school friend in Sheffield back in 1978 at the age of 15; it wouldn’t be for another 17 years before he could celebrate a top 10 single or a #1 album.

The band had undergone numerous changes in personnel during that period, with Cocker being the only constant member; by the late 1980s it had essentially settled down into the classic line-up of Cocker, guitarist Russell Senior, bassist Steve Mackey, keyboardist Candida Doyle, and drummer Nick Banks. Pulp fan club president Mark Webber (not to be confused with the Formula One driver of the same name) joined as an additional guitarist for 1995 album Different Class, the follow-up to their first top 10 album His ‘n’ Hers, which had been released the year before.

‘Common People’ was released some five months ahead of the album. The lyrics told of a narrative story of a wealthy Greek art student Cocker had met while studying at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in around 1988. The identity of the student remains a mystery; in 2015, a Greek newspaper suggested it was Danae Stratou, the wife of left-wing economist and politician Yanis Varoufakis, but this is unconfirmed. The song acts as an overall criticism of slumming, the celebration of working class life by middle class people who never experience the true hardships of being poor.

The song builds up slowly from the start, becoming a fast-paced aggressive rock song by the end; this effect was retained despite cutting out one of the song’s verses for the single edit. This anthemic style was something that had previously been an anathema to Pulp’s quirky style until that point, but immediately proved popular with the public. Suddenly they were launched from being a quirky band outside the mainstream to being full-blown national pop stars, headlining Glastonbury Festival and winning the Mercury Music Prize.

The popularity of the song has endured, with it receiving significant airplay. In 2004, it was the subject of a notable cover version by Star Trek actor William Shatner, who included it as the first track on his spoken word album Has Been, produced by Ben Folds and featuring ‘Steppin’ Out’ singer Joe Jackson on accompanying vocals. This has become something of a cult classic, and one Cocker was particularly flattered by.

#590: U2 – Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me

Label & Cat No.: Atlantic A 7131CD
Producers: Nellee Hooper, Bono, The Edge
Writers: U2
Weeks at No. 2: 2 (11th-24th June 1995)
No. 1: Robson and Jerome – Unchained Melody / White Cliffs of Dover

Surprisingly, it took until 1995 for U2 to get their first #2, by which point they had already picked up two #1s. ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me…’ would be their fifteenth top 10 hit, released at a time when the band were at the height of their popularity and fame after a string of best-selling albums, the most recent at this point being 1993’s Zooropa.

It had been a long time coming for Ireland’s greatest music act, having released their first album Boy back in 1980. Their is a well-known story: an initial commercial breakthrough with third album War in 1983, followed by UK #1 The Unforgettable Fire in 1984 and a memorable performance at Live Aid in 1985 bringing them fully into the mainstream. The release The Joshua Tree in 1987 to widespread critical acclaim and sales of 25 million made them one of the biggest bands of the world.

By 1995, the band were starting to experiment with new sounds away from the classic rock style, a process which first began in 1991 with Achtung Baby. Work on ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me…’ was first begun during the Zooropa sessions. With its distinctive distorted riff, this was a typical U2 song presented in this style, with soaring strings and muffling effects on Bono’s vocals. The title was a reference to ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me’, first written in 1952 with the original version recorded by Karen Chandler, but covered in 1994 by Gloria Estefan.

Dropped from Zooropa, the song was revitalised when director Joel Schumacher approached the band for involvement in Batman Forever. An initial cameo for Bono failed to materialise, with the eventual choice being a contribution to the soundtrack. Despite mixed reviews from the critics for the film, which saw Val Kilmer take over as the superhero, it was a box office success, and the soundtrack sold well accordingly.

‘Hold Me, Thrill Me…’, with its Kevin Godley-directed cartoon video, was a global success, reaching #1 in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Norway and Finland, although only made a disappointing #16 in the US. It was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Original Song, but was beaten to the award by ‘Colours of the Wind’ from the Disney animation Pocahontas. Today, the band only plays it live intermittently, having been dropping from set lists after the PopMart Tour of 1997-98, until reappearing in 2010 during the U2 360° Tour.

#591: Supergrass – Alright / Time

Label & Cat No.: Parlophone CDR 6413
Producer: Sam Williams (both tracks)
Writers: Supergrass (both tracks)
Weeks at No. 2: : 2 (9th-22nd July 1995)
No. 1: Outhere Brothers – Boom Boom Boom

Ah, that piano riff. While Oasis and Blur hogged most of the headlines in Britpop, and Pulp were a fashionable third way, Supergrass had their fair share of hits, and this one in particular stands out as one of the most iconic songs of the mid-1990s. The fifth single from the band’s debut album I Should Coco (Cockney rhyming slang for ‘I should think so’), it dwarfed the success of the previous four and launched the band into the mainstream.

Vocalist Gaz Coombes and drummer Danny Goffey (son of bearded former Top Gear presenter Chris Goffey) first worked together as teenagers in the Oxfordshire band the Jennifers in the early 1990s, touring the county’s pubs and clubs. After the band broke up, the pair formed Theodore Supergrass (they simplified it two months later) with bassist Mick Quinn. Gaz’s brother Rob Coombes played keyboards for the band but wasn’t included as an official member until 2002’s Life on Other Planets.

After signing with Parlophone, initial singles in 1994 and 1995 grew in popularity as the band’s following developed. First single ‘Caught by the Fuzz’ peaked at #43, ‘Mansize Rooster’ at #20, ‘Lose It’ at #75, and ‘Lenny’ at #10 just a few weeks before the double-A side single ‘Alright’ / ‘Time’ was released in July. By this point, the album had also been released.

Everything was building to a crescendo, and it exploded with ‘Alright’. While the band have denied the song was meant to be a particularly anthemic statement of teenage life, it clearly represents the fun of youth and discovery; after all, the opening line is ‘We are young’, a lyric that isn’t inaccurate considering Gaz was only 19 at the time of release. Coupled with a memorable video which showed, amongst other things, the band riding around Portmeirion in North Wales in a bed on wheels, it struck a chord with young Brits who bought into the light-hearted vibes and message of the song, and the album as a whole, which jumped to #1 just after the single entered at #2 in July.

The status afforded to ‘Alright’ means ‘Time’ is usually overlooked despite officially having equal status in the single. It’s much more of a typical blues rock song, very different from the better-known half. But it isn’t just one song that has been overshadowed. The band eventually tired of the song and the way it influenced perceptions of them, and in latter years only rarely played it live, usually only in major performances like at Glastonbury. Indeed, their second #2, ‘Richard III’ (#625), was played a lot more. However, ‘Alright’ remains their most widely-known song.

#592: Diana King – Shy Guy

Label & Cat No.: Columbia 6621682
Producer: Andy Marvel
Writers: Diana King, Andy Marvel, Kingsley Gardner
Weeks at No. 2: 1 (23rd-29th July 1995)
No. 1: Outhere Brothers – Boom Boom Boom

Though the dancehall fad was quickly drifting into the past, Jamaican Diana King showed a subtly new direction for reggae with a sound that borrowed more from the typical mid-1990s pop sound. King had earned a solo recording contract in 1994 after singing on and co-writing ‘Respect’, from the Notorious B.I.G.’s seminal debut album Ready to Die. Her own first album, Tougher Than Love, was released a year later, along with debut single ‘Shy Guy’.

Though first released in March, the single didn’t make an appearance on the British chart until July, after its inclusion on the soundtrack of the Michael Bay film Bad Boys, starring Will Smith; the second music video, now the standard one for the song, featured King, Smith, Martin Lawrence and various clips from the film. Entering at #4, it had climbed to #2 by its fourth week on the chart, before drifting back out of the top 10 again after a total of 7 weeks there.

It would be King’s biggest hit by far; she followed it up with ‘Ain’t Nobody’ in late 1995 and a cover of ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ in 1997, but they stalled at #13 and #17 respectively. However, she did have more success in Japan, where Tougher Than Love (which only reached #50 in the UK) went 3x Platinum + Gold, and second album Think Like a Girl went Platinum. And she wasn’t unrecognised in the industry too: another song from her debut album, ‘Treat Her Like a Lady’, was covered in 1997 by Celine Dion for her best-selling album Let’s Talk About Love, with King featuring on the track; it reached #29 in the UK singles chart. She is still performing today. In 2012, she announced that she is a lesbian, becoming the first notable Jamaican music performer to come out as LGBT.

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