Mar 4, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: Frosty Madge versus the ambient sheep guys

We are in the throes of battle. Not Blur versus Oasis, not City versus United, not Emu versus that green witch woman that kept knocking at the door. This is much more epic. It's the fight to decide the ultimate UK 1990s number one hit single.

The basic criteria for judging the best chart-topper is (a) whether it's a banger and (b) whether it bleeps. Let's enter the arena and check out our musical gladiators.

The contenders

Aqua: Turn Back Time  |  ATB: 9 PM (Till I Come)  |  Chef: Chocolate Salty Balls (P.S. I Love You)  |  The KLF: 3 a.m. Eternal  |  Madonna: Frozen  |  Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody / These Are the Days of Our Lives  |  Right Said Fred: Deeply Dippy  |  Spice Girls: Too Much  |  Take That: Never Forget  |  Take That: Pray

Flushing the poo

It's confession time. I have a plush toy of Mr Hanky the Christmas Poo in my bathroom. Yes, I am a grown adult. So I have fondness for South Park, although if I watched it these days it would probably offend my fragile snowflake sensibilities. In any case, Chef's comical poo song isn't worthy of this competition, so this can be flushed pretty early on.

Sad songs

Two of the tracks make me sad. Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody returned to the top of the charts in 1991 following the death of Freddie Mercury. It's a belter of a banger, but it's more of a weepy than a bleepy. And I'm ignoring Right Said Fred on the basis of one of the brothers being a right bell-plop. Which is a shame because Deeply Dippy is their best song.

Next come the all-dominating Spice Girls and Take That. Between them, they had 16 number one hits in the 1990s. The Spices delivered a slinky ballad with Too Much, while the Thats gave us Pray, an efficient ballad, plus Never Forget, their iconic stadium singalong. Never Forget, or Nev Forge as I like to call it, is the dictionary definition of a pop music banger. But none of these shall proceed in this competition, which is unashamedly biased towards electronic music.

A final four

The final four tracks in this selection are notable in different ways. Let's stroke their bleeps one by one.

Scandi candy-poppers Aqua surprised us with Turn Back Time, displaying a melancholic maturity hiding behind their plastic pink prattling. This is a bit of a banger, certainly compared to their previous nonsense, and part of the verse reminds me of Heart by the Pet Shop Boys.

After fooling everyone into thinking religion was sexy, Madonna transformed her identity with Frozen. Electronic music producer William Orbit cast a real, er, ray of light on this stage of Madge's career. I love the idea of Madonna listening to Orbit's Strange Cargo albums and thinking, "yeah, I'm gonna work with this guy".

Everyone got their trance pants in a twist when ATB knocked Vengaboys off the number one spot. ATB chose 9pm as his time after a long day in the studio. In all fairness, that is a late finish, and the local Spar probably shuts at 8, so he can't even get a cheeky Pot Noodle on the way home. Both this and the Madonna record would have won this week. Except for...

All hail Rockman Rock and King Boy D, otherwise known as the KLF, furthermore known as the JAMs. The career of the KLF sounds like a random plot generator gone rogue. Timelords, success manual, stadium house, extreme noise, cash combustion, ice cream van, rambling helpline, Stonehenge destruction, machine gun and ambient sheep. At the pinnacle of all of that is 3am Eternal. Everything that pop music should be about. If you don't believe me, look up their eccentric hooded Top of the Pops performance.

Because the selection was so strong, let's pick two of these tracks to go through to the final of this 1990s chart battle. The KLF are the kings of heavyweight jams, so they go through. As does Madonna and her chilly tune.

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