Tom Ewing

Mar 14

THE VERVE – “The Drugs Don’t Work”

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#773, 13th September 1997

verve ddw “Whenever we played that live there would be rows of grown men crying. It was almost like these guys couldn’t cry when they needed to cry, but that song operated like a pressure valve for them and it was okay for them to cry at a big rock concert.” – Richard Ashcroft on “The Drugs Don’t Work”

The list of number ones is not a complete history of anything except itself: it’s an iceberg party, a throng of bobbing and jostling tips – rock, hip-hop, reggae, indie, cinema, politics, comedy, charity, marketing and more, each one an incomplete and distorted story. But sometimes – when a berg seems over-familiar – the tiny and partial story told by the tip can put a new spin on it.

So the rock and indie number ones of 1996-1997 have seemed to me to tell a story about anxiety, a crisis of legitimacy for rock music. “Setting Sun” brutally demonstrated that it was impossible simply to pick up where the 60s innovations had left off. “Discotheque” suggested that other musics could no longer be easily absorbed into the working practises of a rock band. And Oasis were a walking declaration that a traditional band line-up should be the centre of pop, simply by right and by confidence – and it had worked, until Be Here Now showed the limits of this fiat rock.

Mar 14

PWC14: Group H Match 2 (South Korea, Belgium, Russia, Algeria)

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jambazi Even men with steel hearts love to see a dog on the pitch – except when it holds up a vital second group game in the Pop World Cup! In this case the rogue canine was cleverly disguised as a market research conference – sorry everyone. Back now, and so are South Korea’s Iain Mew, Belgium’s Glynn, Russia’s Chelovek Na Lune and Algeria’s Katherine St Asaph. The fans went wild for Girls’ Generation – can Korea do it again, or can their rivals catch up?

Four tracks, two votes – poll below the cut, and very belated Group F results too.

Mar 14

WILL SMITH – “Men In Black”

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#772, 16th August 1997

The ‘Greys’ – those spindly, abducting, UFO-piloting scamps – were the iconic early 90s monster. They’d bounced around pop culture through the Cold War but enjoyed a final, late heyday when that conflict ended, bringing a whole bestiary with them – the hypnotic MIBs included. Indeed, they made sense as a Cold War epilogue – a goodbye to the age of spies and spymasters and dreadful international secrets, a way for its tropes (conspiracies, disappearances, and brainwashing) to seem romantic and exciting again one last time.

Mar 14

OASIS – “D’You Know What I Mean?”

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#771, 19th July 1997

dkwim “Call me naive but I felt something – I’m not quite sure what it was, but I felt it all the same.” – Noel Gallagher on New Labour.

When Tony Blair and Noel Gallagher shook hands in Downing Street that Autumn, they were men facing similar problems: what do you do after you’ve won? Accounts of the first Blair term stress that New Labour never realised, deep down, they were as powerful as they were – Blair stuck to plans which assumed his party would be working with only a modest majority.

Gallagher, on the other hand, believed absolutely that Oasis would be the biggest band in the country. He’d said it would happen by right, and it had. But that didn’t make him any more prepared. If Blair didn’t believe he could tear up his plan, Noel hadn’t seen much need to make one. What do you do after Morning Glory? You do it again – bigger, better, louder, longer, even if the band hate each other and the songs aren’t there. Be Here Now is known as a cocaine album, but just as pertinently it’s a success album. It’s an avalanche of half-worked, muddy, adequate ideas that exist because nobody said they couldn’t and momentum said they had to. Landslide indie: as 1997 as it gets.

Mar 14

PWC14: Group G Match 2 (Ghana, USA, Portugal, Germany)

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seeed Group G’s middle game sees Ghana (Jonathan Bogart) in front after narrowly beating the USA (The Lex) last time. Behind them come Portugal (Weej) and Germany (Tak) who will be looking to make more of an impact on this very tough group.

As ever, play the four songs and vote for two below the cut – where you’ll also find the Group E results and our first European qualifier for the knockout stages!

Mar 14

PUFF DADDY, FAITH EVANS AND 112 – “I’ll Be Missing You”

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#770, 28th June 1997

IllBeMissingYou I don’t normally pay too much attention to the length of a song’s stay at Number One, but the scale of “I’ll Be Missing You”’s popularity is significant. It ran three weeks at the top, was knocked off by the comeback single of the country’s biggest band, then came back the week after for another three – and all this before Princess Diana died, giving it another surge. It outsold “Wannabe”. It was colossal.

Mar 14

PWC14: Group F Match 2 (Nigeria, Iran, Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina)

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leila The second Group F match finds Nigeria (managed by Cis) in pole position, riding a wave of appreciation for African pop. Charged with getting past them are Iran (Wichita Lineman) and Argentina (Chris B) with Bosnia-Herzegovina (Scott M) needing points quickly.

As usual, you have two votes between the four tracks. The poll is below the cut, and so is the Group D results, with a second team exiting the tournament….

Mar 14


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#769, 7th June 1997

mmmbop The word “manufactured” is the most enduring and potent slam on pop music, suggesting music as sheer product – assembled by formula, made by people interested only in money. But what the opposite – more desirable – quality would be is rather less clear. Artisanal pop – hand-crafted for love or art’s sake – is generally what’s meant. There’s a second opposite shadowing that one, though – implicit in the m-word even if it lurks there unintended: not artisanal but natural. An idea of pop as something simple, something that comes easily – think of Paul McCartney supposedly waking up with the melody to “Yesterday” in his head, convinced he couldn’t have thought of it, it seemed so primal a tune. Most people know enough about music to realise such instances are absurdly rare, if they happen at all, but the idea still appeals.

Mar 14

Popular ’61

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There’s a few big Popular entries coming up so I’m giving myself a spare day’s breathing space, which means it’s time for a year poll. To be moved to its proper place in a week or so.

I give every record on Popular a mark out of 10 – this is your chance to say which of the number ones of 1961 you’d have given 6 or more to. This year got three 9s from me – “Johnny Remember Me”, “Blue Moon” and “Moon River”. At the other end “Wooden Heart” and “I Reach For The Stars” got lumped with a 2. As ever, discuss the year in general in the comments…

Which Of The Number One Hits Of 1961 Would You Have Given 6 Or More To?

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Poll closes: No Expiry

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Mar 14

PWC14: Group E Match 2 (France, Honduras, Ecuador, Switzerland)

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mckenzi Group E’s second game sees France (managed by Jessica) looking for the win that will see them through to the knockout phase. Giant-killers Honduras (Kat) will be trying to build on their fine early start, with Ecuador (Megan) and Switzerland (Mullah Rezmat) hoping for improved second-game fortunes.

Click through for the tracks, the poll (pick 2 of 4), and results from Group C.