Popular

15
Aug 14

CHEF – “Chocolate Salty Balls”

Popular34 comments • 2,021 views

#809, 2nd January 1999

chefcsb Every so often on Popular I hit a knowledge gap that there’s simply no way of talking around, and this is one. I have only ever seen one episode of South Park, after the pub one night, sometime in its first flush of success. I didn’t like it enough to watch more, and that turned out to be it for me and the show – this single aside. If you want a comment on South Park, how “Chocolate Salty Balls” fits into it, its cultural significance – well, the box is open, and I know a lot of the writers here are fans.

With that large and necessary context torn out, what independent life can this song have? Quite a lot. It’s the first outright comedy record to get to #1 since “The Stonk”, but the gap in care, structure and wit between the songs is colossal. There’s none of the soul-shrivelling forced bonhomie of Red Nose Day about this record, where you herd the comics of the day into a studio and pray something half-funny emerges. This is a return to a seventies model – funny songs that got to Number One because they made people laugh.

13
Aug 14

Popular ’98

Popular38 comments • 1,033 views

I give every record on Popular a mark out of 10. This poll is your chance to tick any singles YOU would have given 6 or more to. In 1998 my top score was a 9 for Cornershop, my lowest a 1 for Boyzone’s “No Matter What”. Use the comments to discuss the year in general, present other lists, etc etc.

Which of the Number Ones of 1998 would you give 6 or more to?

View Results

Poll closes: No Expiry

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12
Aug 14

SPICE GIRLS – “Goodbye”

Popular20 comments • 1,286 views

#808, 26th December 1998

goodbyespice “Viva Forever” had been the Spice Girls’ unofficial break-up single – its themes (and wistful qualities) well able to shoulder the job of seeing Geri Halliwell off. What need for “Goodbye”, then? The song existed in demo form pre-split but was gussied up into a statement by band and songwriters afterwards. Could it feel like anything other than a cash-in?

Perhaps not, if it had just been about Geri. But momentum was flowing away from the band, whether they knew it or not. “Goodbye”, a non-album single meant publically to cap the Girl Power era and launch a new, four-woman one, just felt like the end, full stop. “It’s not”, the chorus smoothly protested, but events, and the vibe of the song itself, honoured its title as a not-all-that-well-hidden intention.

4
Aug 14

B*WITCHED – “To You I Belong”

Popular23 comments • 1,316 views

#807, 19th December 1998

blong The wintry sleeve and video make the game here obvious even if the song doesn’t – B*Witched’s third single is a notional shot at the Christmas Number One. Its chances were ceremonial – as a release date politely ahead of the Spice Girls’ post-Geri blubfest suggests, “To You I Belong” was only ever expecting to be a runner up on the big day. As an unofficial teaser, though, it had the desired commercial effect, nudging Cher aside for a modest week.

24
Jul 14

CHER – “Believe”

Popular37 comments • 2,721 views

#806, 31st October 1998

cher believe In an age of one-week wonders, “Believe” was a phenomenon – a massive global hit, bossing the charts for close to two months. It has a formidable legacy: as well as a triumphant capstone for Cher’s career, it sets the tone for a surge of dance-pop successes over the next couple of years, and opens the pop career of writer/producer Brian Higgins and his Xenomania team, whose idiosyncratic approach to pop will illuminate the early 00s.

Except none of that matters. “Believe”’s place in history and conversation has been all filled up by that unnatural bend in Cher’s voice in the verses, the moment the public discovered Autotune. So “Believe” stops being a rather good pop song about rubbing your ex’s face in their folly, and instead is treated as Patient Zero in an epidemic that defines or ruins modern pop. All the debate and the disdain over Autotune starts here, and all of it since lands back here. Cher, what have you done?

23
Jul 14

SPACEDUST – “Gym And Tonic”

Popular26 comments • 1,472 views

#805, 24th October 1998

gymtonic In another world, the crassest Number One of 1998 might have been its most chic. “Gym And Tonic” steals a name, a concept, a hook and most of a sound from Bob Sinclar’s “Gymtonic”, written with Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter, who also co-wrote the gorgeous Stardust hit “Music Sounds Better With You” – from which Spacedust lifts the rest of their ideas, and their band name. It’s not so much filing off the serial numbers as daubing luminous paint on them. “Music Sounds…” had just missed reaching Number One a few months before this – which meant that at the peak of French pop cool in my adult life, the sole representative of “French touch” on Popular is a knockoff by a pair of Brits with an, ahem, “deliberately cheap” video. C’est la vie.

20
Jul 14

BILLIE – “Girlfriend”

Popular34 comments • 1,685 views

#804, 17th October 1998

billiegf “Because We Want To” worked by leaning on Billie Piper’s energy and nascent dramatic flair rather than her singing. For “Girlfriend” her voice is more central, which is a problem – it’s a mushy, gobstopper-mouthed instrument, prone to sliding words together so that every line sounds shrugged through. It makes “Girlfriend”’s chorus – Billie asking a guy out – sound really grudging and reluctant. The awkwardness doesn’t end with the vocals, either – like Peter Andre’s hits, “Girlfriend” is professional songwriters trying for cool and ending up with a supermarket own-brand version of R&B, clumpy and thin.

18
Jul 14

B*WITCHED – “Rollercoaster”

Popular52 comments • 2,100 views

#803, 3rd October 1998

coaster Once upon a time there was a whimsical, backward-facing tendency in British life, with a habit of surfacing just as things were at their shiniest. The Beatles released Sgt Peppers, for instance, and the world proclaimed a revolution: but some took a subtler view. George Melly, a man with an interest in fashion, the texture and the cut of things, noticed right away how old Pepperland looked. The cavalry twill, the black-and-white photos, the circus posters, the childrens’ drawings – this was as much retreat as advance. The golden youth of Britain reached back into playful memory, storing up an attic chest of precious bygones against a rupture they had helped begin.

The Beatles weren’t alone – its childish streak is the first thing anyone notices about UK psychedelia. But if childhood could be appropriated by the hippies, the process could work in reverse. Primary school pop, thirty years later, could assume the grown-ups weren’t listening and borrow a few of the sixties’ better ideas.

14
Jul 14

MELANIE B ft MISSY ELLIOTT – “I Want You Back”

Popular38 comments • 2,059 views

#802, 26th September 1998

melb iwyb This ought to be something special: the most outspoken member of the biggest group in pop teams up with the most exciting new female MC for years. Instead, the first solo Spice No.1 finds Missy Elliott barely in attendance and Mel B flailing as she tries to carry a song that plays entirely to her weaknesses.

One issue – and it’s the one that seems to sum “I Want You Back”’s puffing mediocrity up – is that Mel B is a fairly woeful rapper. The opening minute is like an excruciating pro-celebrity golf match, with Mel and Missy trading rhymes and Mel struggling to find any variety or charisma against even the most softball lines from her bored-sounding co-star. “How can you ‘beep beep’ with no keys?” indeed.

4
Jul 14

ROBBIE WILLIAMS – “Millennium”

Popular49 comments • 2,987 views

#801, 19th September 1998

millenn Expansive of theme, expensive of sample, “Millennium” is a self-conscious event single, carrying itself as if Number One was never in doubt. But while Robbie Williams was the biggest star in Britain, he’d fluffed getting to the top with several iconic songs. Robbie’s most famous track of all, career ignition ballad “Angels”, had missed by several places. He was taking no more chances. Sweeping into the charts wearing a borrowed John Barry tuxedo, “Millennium” is as brazen a Number One as I’ve ever covered, but as needy a one too.