Popular

31
Aug 14

FATBOY SLIM – “Praise You”

Popular15 comments • 846 views

#811, 16th January 1999

praise you Norman Cook had ridden across 1998 in triumph, building his Fatboy Slim persona into a dependably gonzo pop brand. On “The Rockefeller Skank” he’d pushed his machines hard enough to break them, the track unspooling into a chaos of jammed samples, the sound equivalent of a stuck keyboard keyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy. Following in that greatest of pop traditions, it sounded brilliant so he kept it in.

Then built on it: under a bouncy – and annoying – brass and vocal sample, “Gangsta Tripping” was a ball pit of joyful splices and rapid cuts. His remix for Wildchild’s “Renegade Master” was harder-edged, pushing cut-up repetition to brutal levels before taking his hand off the brake for moments of delicious dancefloor relief. How far would he push it? “Praise You” starts off slow and intimate – the bassy roll of a piano riff, and a sample of Camille Yarborough’s “Take Yo’ Praise” – and then slips into his longest stuck-sound yet, the word “should” extended second upon ludicrous second. It sounds like the gateway to the biggest, baddest Fatboy beat-drop yet… but instead he does something else. The trapped-fly buzz of the “should” falls back into the track, overcome as the rest of the groove builds up. The song gets gentler.

30
Aug 14

STEPS – “Heartbeat” / “Tragedy”

Popular27 comments • 868 views

#810, 9th January 1999

steps This is the first Popular entry I’ve written in the Southern hemisphere. And while it wasn’t a big hit down under – or, I think, anywhere except the UK – “Tragedy” moved one of my marvellous Australian hosts to asset that it was the greatest pop performance of all time. His other comment was that this review should just be the “Tragedy” dance, done by me, as a gif. I’ve spared you that, at least.

But that’s “Tragedy” summed up – it’s a record with an outsize reputation in some quarters, and certainly it’s Steps’ big cultural moment. And it’s also a cover version with an extremely easy dance step. This was part of Steps’ initial concept, when Pete Waterman decided he could do more with them than the line-dancing cash-in they started off with. Steps by name, Steps by brand: each single would come with its signature dance. It was a shrewd gimmick, though it’s the other half of the concept that interests me more – Waterman decided Steps would stand out in an age of bubblegum and R&B inspired groups by offering “ABBA on speed”: big, melodic, heart-on-sleeve pop.

15
Aug 14

CHEF – “Chocolate Salty Balls”

Popular35 comments • 2,234 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 • 1,076 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 • 1,325 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 • 1,349 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 • 2,763 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 • 1,499 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 • 1,704 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 • 2,120 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.