May 31, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: Everyone's got a gun – but Keith's got matches

Here's another instalment of my blog series Ultimate 1990s Number One, wherein I sift through every UK number one singles of the 1990s. Most will get rejected, while a select few golden nuggets will shine. The criteria? Bleepy bangers. The best electronic chart toppers.

Let's go!

The contenders

Ace of Base: All That She Wants  |  Armand van Helden featuring Duane Harden: You Don't Know Me  |  Blur: Beetlebum  |  The Offspring: Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)  |  The Prodigy: Firestarter  |  Rednex: Cotton Eye Joe  |  S Club 7: Bring It All Back  |  Spice Girls: Mama / Who Do You Think You Are  |  Take That: Everything Changes  |  Take That featuring Lulu: Relight My Fire

The Visa Cash App RBs of pop music

Let's throw some of these tunes straight into the waste disposal. The Spice Girls and Take That are coming in strong with several smokin' bangers, and Lulu's guest spot on Relight My Fire is one of the '90s top pop moments. But they're not right for this list.

Sometimes I think that Take That and Westlife are worst band names in pop music. But lo and behold, here comes S Club 7. An absolutely terrible name. There's currently a Formula 1 team called Visa Cash App RB. This band's name isn't far off that level of awfulness. The song's pretty uninspiring too. 

Fans of The Offspring's insipid skater-bro playground punk might be surprised to learn the band had been releasing music since the 1980s. Pretty Fly For A White Guy transformed them from a genuinely interesting punk act into sniggering Beavis & Butthead college pop plonkers. Terrible. Instead, go and listen to their scrappy debut single I'll Be Waiting from 1986 instead. 

Gun nonsense

"Beetlebum," sings Mr Blur on Blur's Beetlebum. "What you've done, she's a gun, now what you've done, Beetlebum." A moving tale, I'm sure you would agree.

"His eyes was his tools and his smile was his gun," sing Rednex on Cotton Eye Joe. "But all he had come for was having some fun."

Why is everyone turning into guns? Neither of these songs make much sense. At least Blur had a tonne of credibility. Have you listened to that Rednex album. the one with the band members being urinated on? Possibly one of the worst albums in history. If you want some proper novelty banjo techno, get The Grid's Swamp Thing on your record player.

Anyway. Ignore the Rednex. And apologies to Blur, but you're not bleepy enough for this 90s chart-topper contest. 

Popping off

As with previous selections, I've sifted out the runts of this litter and now we're left with the prize puppies.

Produced by powerhouse music clever-man Denniz Pop, Ace of Base's All That She Wants is clearly a banger. The band brought dinner table reggae pop to the masses, and shifted 600,000 units in the UK. The single released boasts bhangra and piano house versions of the track. Neither sounded very bhangra or piano house-y.

Next up it's the only solo number one single for US producer Armand van Helden. (He later hit the top spot when he made Bonkers with Dizzee Rascal.) The track is a sample factory, using an old 1970s soul hit by Carrie Lucas, Jaydee's classic Plastic Dreams, and even a clip from Dexter's Laboratory on its extended version.

And then we have The Prodigy's Firestarter. When this hell-raise of a track topped the charts in March 1996, commercial dance music was about to pop off. Underworld's Born Slippy was ready to break through having scored a minor chart place the previous year, and the Chemical Brothers were firing up their rocket pants and aiming for chart domination. Dance music was about to be EVERYWHERE. But Keith Prodigy and his silly hair was there first.

Of course The Prodigy go through to the final. There was never anyone else. The guy starts fires, for goodness' sake. He'll incinerate your brain. Well done, the Prodge.

More of the Ultimate 90s number one

May 17, 2024

Eurovision 2024: A giant egg, demon wolves and too many ooohs

I'm not a huge Eurovision buff. Cheesy makes me queasy, and ballads are a ball-ache. But I did watch Eurovision 2024, so here are some unedited thought splats about the whole thing. In alphabetical order by country, so like a proper dictionary and everything.

The following content is adapted from my Twitter account, or as we have to call it now, my X account. Not every country is included here, for humanitarian reasons. And I was significantly more enthusiastic about the UK entry on the night, but I've watched it back with a sober brain, and I've dampened down my excitement.

Here we go...

Bit of old Armenian folk vibes. I'm off for a cup of tea. What am I saying? I don't even drink tea. I'm off to slurp up something I spilled down the back of the sofa. Back in a bit. 1/10

We Will Rave? Right, Austria, I'm paying attention. Lasers! Banging beats! Techno synths! Massive build-ups! Acid squeaks! Shouting out Eurovision! DRUM N BASS! I want all 26 entries to be like this, please. A grand closer. 10/10

Croatia. I recognise this. Baby Lasagne's got layers. The Prodigy meets Billy Idol meets Rammstein meets Bring Me Edelweiss. Utterly stupid, very singalong, and everything that Eurovision should be about. We're cooking. 9/10

Shout out to all the Cypriot comedians I have the pleasure of regularly working with. The #Eurovision2024 entry is a bit of banger. She's really clapping back at that ex. Love this deep production, nice and chunky. Not bad at all. 7/10

Big up to Estonia and everyone in it right now. Crikes, this is like the Baha Men on a comeback with the Happy Mondays. A shouty, loose mess, but not necessarily in a bad way. Is that the guy from V Sauce? 3/10

Oh Lordi, it's Finland. Emerging from a giant egg is a win for me. Very Europop and pretty forgettable. Decent chord change. There he is, flapping his floppy disc about all over the place. 4/10

France. Not keen on a ballad. But this is dramatic. Will his voice cope? Here goes... [watches the performance] Respect to the guy. Went for the notes, nailed it. Unless he was meant to be two octaves higher: not heard the song before. Anyway, well done bloke in white, you gave it everything. I'm sure it's a very good ballad. 7/10

Sorry Germany, there are too many lumberjacks posing as emotive songsters. The charts is full of them: it doesn't twiddle my tassels. Catchy chorus, though. Are things meant to be on fire or is he an arsonist? 2/10

Here's Georgia and their fire goddess. Another super catchy pop anthem. Why would you NOT perform with a super catchy pop anthem? That said, I think I will forget this in five minutes. Yargles, that is a LOT of fire. I hope everyone's hair gel is okay. 6/10

Greece bringing the TikTok vibes. And the dancehall vibes. And the banghra overtones. And some digital mayhem thrown in for good measure. This is the opposite of monotone: it's like a paint factory's electrocuted. Yikes. 7/10

Bambie Thug has turned up. Phew. Oh yes, I've heard Ireland's before. A Jekyll and Hyde of a track, with the darkness and the sweetness. Feels like a novelty 1990s number one single. The screams. The techno breakdown. Great. 9/10

Italy just make me want to listen to another specific similar-sounding track, the name of which escapes me because my brain is full of this super average entry from Italy. [And then, a few minutes later...] Stromae! That's it. It just made me want to listen to Alors on danse. 5/10

Now it's Dons performing for Latvia, also known as Judge Rinder's S&M brother. Look at him, all carbon fibred up. I can see this one doing quite well. Ballads don't excite me too much, especially with chord swoops like this one. 4/10 

Good old Silvester Belt and their nose. They used to work in a beauty salon. They seems like the kind of person who worked in a beauty salon. They're giving Troy Sivan and the beats are giving Paul Van Dyk. Excellent work, Lithuania. Big and bouncy but a lamination of lovely melancholy. 8/10

Luxembourg are back in the contest. Only country that rhymes with Bella Emberg. Are those real cheetahs? Should we be running? This is pretty... okay Shakira fayre. To be honest, I'm just concerned about being mauled. 5/10

Norway are bringing epic with an extra epic hat on with the word EPIC written on it. I feel like they're summoning a horde of demon wolves from the pits of the underworld. Great guitar game. That was... A LOT. 7/10

Another snoozefest, this time from Portugal. Sorry for being negative, but we're at the slog bit of the running order, and we really could do with some hardcore rave or liquid drum 'n' bass right now. 1/10

Where are we? Oh right, Serbia. This is a snoozathon. It had better kick off. Waiting. Still waiting. I feel like it's going to kick off. No? It didn't kick off. Not for me. 0/10

Time for Slovenia, who are giving male nudity (although not that much - I went to Kylie's Aphrodite tour, and that was a flesh Christmas). Too waily. Make it stop. Ouch. Nope. Not for me. 0/10

Woah Spain, what is going on? Sassy dancers. Drum fills. A keytar. Bottoms?! It's as MOR as heck under the glitz, but it's got shouting and dramatic chord changes. 6/10

Sweden sounded like Olly Alexander but looked like Ant & Dec. Standard pop EDM fayre with chunky production. Went right off them when they said "Make some noise". 6/10

Nemo (pictured) is definitely giving fishy for Switzerland. It's very musical theatre, but I'm down for this. Thoroughly pop, decidedly queer, gloriously refreshing. I swear he was going to fall of that bucking bronco disc. What a star. I hope this wins. 10/10

I wasn't into Ukraine's poppy goth plod vibe. Too many "oooh"s. Never trust anyone who ooohs a lot, in song or in conversation. The rapper look like they could rap their way out of a fight, so they were good. 3/10

Time for the United Kingdom. How is Olly upside-down?! This staging is next level. I want to be in that weird spinny room with those men. That voiceover bit is deliciously Pet Shop Boys. Big up Olly's cats Fanta and Sprite who, sadly, might have done a better job with singing in this performance. 5/10 

Further Fats: Bert And Ernie Bumper Car face mask Euro fury (2012)

Further Fats: I'm too techno to be Brexit (2017)

May 1, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: Fugees in the place, got a bittersweet face

Why? Why? What have we done to deserve this? Whyyyyy?

And there is my introduction to the latest episode of the Ultimate 1990s Number One, in which I trawl through every chart-topping single of the 1990s to decide the bestest of the best.

This competition has notional judging criteria of (a) is it a banger and (b) is it bleepy, but to be honest, I've been drunk on absinthe for most of these blog posts, and I'm currently convinced that my legs are made of spaghetti.

Let's go!

The contenders

Billie: Girlfriend  |  Celine Dion: Think Twice  |  Cher, Chrissie Hynde and Neneh Cherry with Eric Clapton: Love Can Build a Bridge  |  Five: Keep on Movin'  |  Fugees: Killing Me Softly  |  Oasis: Don't Look Back in Anger  |  Oasis: Some Might Say  |  Robbie Williams: Millennium  |  The Shamen: Ebeneezer Goode  |  Shanks & Bigfoot: Sweet Like Chocolate  |  The Simpsons: Do the Bartman

Scratchy eyeballs

I would rather massage my eyeballs with hedgehogs than listen to a single second of Celine Dion, so she’s out of contention straight away. Do the Bartman by The Simpsons makes me want to do similar things to my peepers, such is the blot this single put on the reputation of Groening’s genius cartoon series.

I would definitely go on a camping weekend in the countryside with Cher, Chrissie Hynde and Neneh Cherry. They’d be a right laugh, and we would drink hot chocolate under a starry sky and throw peanut M&Ms at the sheep. However, for Love Can Build a Bridge, we’ve got to spend our rural retreat with Eric Clapton and his toxic opinions. No thank you.

I am not a blokey bloke. I don't wear Ben Sherman, I'm not impressed by exhaust sizes, and I have zero opinions on Premier League football and/or hot sauces. With this in mind, I am immediately ejecting from this competition both Oasis singles and Robbie Williams's John Barry-aping ode to the millennium.

Let's move on.

Aaargh bees

When I was eleven, I was chased by bees. I got too close to their nest in the local park, and I ran up a hill until the bees had stopped pursuing me. Only problem is, I kept on running upwards after the hill had stopped, so I ran up into space and accidentally knocked Jupiter off its orbit. There are alien lizards on the rings of Saturn that now worship me as a god, but it's a hollow victory.

What's the purpose of this definitely actually true story? It's to distract you from how boring I find Billie and Five. Yes, pop princess Billie is impressive, dropping pop bangers before she had finished her GCSEs. And Five, or to give them their proper name, F5i5v5e, are cheeky scamps it's hard not to love. But I want to, erm, keep on movin' past these two.

Doughnuts, chocolate and pills

Now we get to the good stuff. The real deal. The genuine juice.

Lauryn Hill strummed our pain with her fingers when she fronted the Fugees. Killing Me Softly was the bestselling single of 1996, and with good reason. If I were to kill someone softly, I'd use doughnuts. Thousands of them. Pile them on. Death by sprinkles.

I am conflicted about the Shanks & Bigfoot track. It was so fantastic having a garage track at number one in the charts. The track was cheeky, like a little scamp stealing your false teeth. But it was also awful, with lyrics like "you are warm like the rays of the sun" and "holding you is a gift from above". This isn't chocolate: it's cheese. But oh so tasty cheese.

Finally, and this is my top pick for this week's selections, there's a guy in the place with a bittersweet face who goes by the name of Ebeneezer Goode. Mr C was a controversial choice for frontman of The Shamen, who had genuine rave credentials and didn't necessarily need to become a comedy band doing an impression of a Victorian Kenneth Williams.

But if I had an orphan child for every fantastic moment in this top-drawer pop single, I'd be able to run a fully-fledged chimney sweep business. The Syd James laughter. The snappy lyrics. The responsible drugs advice (yes, really). The bit where the guy goes "Ello!"

Ebeneezer Goode was produced by The Beatmasters, who also gave us Betty Boo. The comic perkiness of it all kind of makes sense. This was a form of The Shamen that seemed a long way from singles like Hyperreal. But there was enough rave wonkiness in there for this to become my anthem for many years to come. So great.

The Shamen it is. Plenty more to come in this series. Turns out there are LOADS of number ones in the 1990s.