Feb 29, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: A rubbery travesty and something Badd

Britney Spears in school uniform, a monk in a brown habit

I've laid down a gauntlet. What is the best UK number one single of the 1990s? Let's pick up that gauntlet and slap a few more contenders about the face.

The contenders

Britney Spears, ...Baby One More Time  |  Color Me Badd, I Wanna Sex You Up  |  Enigma, Sadeness (Part I)  |  Mr Blobby, Mr Blobby  |  Ricky Martin, Livin' la Vida Loca  |  Spice Girls, Goodbye  |  Spice Girls, Viva Forever  |  Take That, Sure  |  Tasmin Archer, Sleeping Satellite  |  Will Smith, Men in Black

Remember the two criteria for judgement. Is it a banger? Is it bleepy?

Rubbery travesty

I am big and pink and covered in spots, like Mr Blobby. I am clumsy, like Mr Blobby. I talk utter nonsense, just like Mr Blobby. However, this rubbery travesty can shove himself right up his own crinkly bottom. He has no place on this list.

Equally terrible is Color Me Badd and their insistence at sexing people "up". Up where? A dreary r 'n' b dirge for creeps. On the positive side, they're named after a horse. No, really. The horse was called Color Me Bad. The band added an extra D so people didn't get confused.

While we're getting rid of rubbish singles, you might like Ricky Martin's late-90s number one Livin' la Vida Loca, but you're wrong. There are many reasons to admire Martin: there can't be many gay Puerto Ricans as leading lights in pop music. But the song is shash. And annoying. And pants. And also shash. Did I mention annoying?

Hey, Will Smith, I see you sneaking out of the room. Get back here. Men in Black sampling of Forget Me Nots is a clever move, but that's as far as it goes. It doesn't half go on a bit. Let's zap ourselves with a neuralyzer and forget this was ever released.

Viva not quite forever

This brings us to the mid-tier choices in this batch. And they are really mid. Both Spice Girls tracks can be placed at the exact middle of their artistic ouvre. I mean, Goodbye and Viva Forever are fine. FINE. But fine is not good enough for this countdown. Chewits are fine, but I'm not choosing them as my last meal. Actually, that's a bad example. Chewits are amazing. Shower them on me when I get to death row.

Meanwhile, Take That's Sure is one of their poorer number one singles, especially in the light of the two singles that followed this, the blistering Back for Good and the iconic Never Forget. The lesson is: never name your single after a deodorant.

Hunks of monks

This brings us to the final three.

As odes to space exploration go, Tasmin Archer's Sleeping Satellite is up there. It's no Bowie, but what a tune. Turning middle-of-the-road pop music into a bonafide banger, It's got some Madchester-style organ action to boot, which gets it some bleepy bonus points.

If sexy schoolgirls are your thing, then look no further than Britney Spears' breakthrough it ...Baby One More Time. Despite the questionable concept behind the promo video, there's no denying how impressive this was for a debut single. Unfortunately, like much of this randomly-picked list, it doesn't satisfy the bleep factor.

In nomine Christi! Yeah, you heard. The unlikely winner for this batch is a bunch of singing monks. Michael Cretu 's new-age noodlings as Enigma produced this unlikely smash hit. Cretu, who was credited on the single as "Curly M.C", refused to publicise the release, and its Gregorian chant samples got him sued. Instant hit. Beyond the novelty, this is a modern ambient classic, and the album holds up better now than it did then.

Bet you didn't expect the monks to win. There are oodles of other 1990s chart-toppers to come. 

More of the Ultimate 90s number one

Feb 28, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: Should we praise Fatboy Slim like we should?

Yesterday, I announced my quest to discover the best UK number one single of the 1990s. My two main judging criteria were (a) is it a banger? and (b) is it bleepy?

Time to delve into my first randomly-picked noisebag of nineties tunes. Here are the first contenders, including the record label and the date it got to number one.

The contenders

All Saints, Under the Bridge / Lady Marmalade  |  Boyzone, A Different Beat  |  B*Witched, C'est la Vie  |  Deep Blue Something, Breakfast at Tiffany's  |  DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, Boom! Shake the Room  |  Fatboy Slim, Praise You  |  Hanson, MMMBop  |  Lou Bega, Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit Of...)  |  Michael Jackson, Black or White  |  Tori Amos, Professional Widow (It's Got to Be Big)

Harpooning the worst

Let's harpoon some blubber before we've even cast anchor. Lou Bega can get lost, with his mangling of 1940s Cuban instrumental Mambo No. 5. I don't want to know how much he fancies Monica, Erica, Ethel and Ermintrude. 

And apologies to any Friends fans, but I rewatched a load of Friends over lockdown, and it's horribly one-dimensional and depressing. Deep Blue Something are deep blue nothing. 

Oh and no Boyzone. Absolutely no Boyzone.

A black and white decision

That's three of this ten dispatched pretty quickly. Now it gets more difficult. Black or White is Michael Jackson's best single of the 1990s, but that's not saying much. This whole period felt like echoes of his more spectacular past. 

At the other end of the pop careers were All Saints and B*Witched, the first with a questionable cover version and the second with too much denim. 

And that Hanson single was a, er, bop, but have you heard it recently? Utter hogwash.

A Tori victory?

Which leaves us with three genuinely impressive singles. Boom! Shake the Room, Praise You and Professional Widow.

I knew all the lyrics to the Fresh Prince's 1993 hit Boom! Shake the Room. "Pump it up, Prince!" I used to shout before going "tick, tick, tick, tick, boom" and doing a bomb impression with my hands. The track was so joyful, and yet hinted towards a violence that would erupt at the 94th Oscars when Smith tolchocked Chris Rock across the choppers. Rather too banging for my liking.

Next? Fatboy Slim's Praise You topped the charts in early 1999, and was pay-off for Norman Cook's incredible transformation from humble Housemartin into big beat remixer extraordinaire. He brought the Roland TB-303 to the forefront of chart popularism, and even made Cornershop cool. The sample-and-paste simplicity of Praise You had us all dancing around ghetto blasters. 

You may be less aware of Tori Amos's 1997 hit Professional Widow. You could dismiss Amos as kooky, but here was a titanic talent who refused to compromise in an era of uncompromising women: step forward Polly Harvey and Bjork. In a way, it's a shame that the single that topped the UK charts was a Armand van Helden remix, because it reduced her fascinating complexities to vocal fragments. Still. Very much a banger.

Praising the best

Praise You is the best of the batch. It may not have had Christopher Walken defying gravity, as in one of Fatboy Slim's other videos, but it fits my criteria perfectly. It bangs. It bleeps. We're going to go a long, long way together.

I guess Mr Slim moves forward to.. the final? Yes, let's have a final. Plenty more of this to come.

Feb 27, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: an introduction

What can be said of the 1990s? Blur versus Oasis, war, the rise of grunge, Nelson Mandela meeting the Spice Girls, cults, Dolly the sheep somehow not having a novelty number one hit, the Euro, David Bowie going jungle.

Above all, it was a fascinating decade for music. Rock music got all grubby, and dance music got all aggressive. We didn't think twice about puppets and animated characters topping the charts, or about worshipping boy bands that were closet tax-dodgers or Tories.

So, it is time to decide. What was the best UK number one single of the 1990s?

How hard can it be to find out? All I need to do is listen to all of the number one singles from that decade, then blog about them until I decide what's best.

How will I organise this? I'll do them in batches of ten, randomly picked from a big long list I've copied from the Official Charts website. Other than that list, and listening to the music, there will be no preplanning. It'll be like one of those internet reaction videos, but really slow because it's a blog.

And how will I judge what's best? Firstly, I'll ask the all-important question. Is it a banger? In other words, how well written is the track? Does it poke your ears with a knitting needle? If you played it at a party, would people drop their sausage rolls in amazement?

Secondly, I will judge each track on the basis of this being an an electronic music blog. This will skew things somewhat, but this is an electronic music blog, so them's the rules. Does it have a pleasing bleepiness? Would a robot rock to this? Would it get their antennae in a twist? To be frank, this is going to rule out a lot of number one singles pretty quickly.

So there we go. Batches of ten until I get through all of the 1990s UK number one singles. No particular blog schedule: I'll post updates as and when I get time. By the end of it, I'll have a winner. Probably.

See all of the posts (so far) in this series.