Jan 13

TONY DI BART – “The Real Thing”

Popular64 comments • 6,106 views

#706, 7th May 1994

Before reality TV commodified the rags-to-brief-riches pop story, the charts threw out an organic example or two. Here’s one: a bathroom salesman from Buckinghamshire with a bedroom studio, his song riding a remix to fleeting glory. Within a few months of hitting number one, Tony Di Bart was shorthand for facelessness – as the stars fell into eclipse, would pop be taken over by herds of such worthy, ordinary try-hards?

But rather than a sign of ill-health, “The Real Thing” may just have been the charts working smoothly – a brokerage for clashing networks. When people talk about “fragmentation” – which they did in the 90s, though not quite as much as now – what they’re diagnosing isn’t the eternal separation of tastes: people like different stuff, surprise! It’s more a fragmentation of distribution, scenes building knowledge systems which bypassed one another. Radio 1 (itself in shock from listener bleed as it abandoned its cross-generational mission); commercial radio; the University and indie circuit; mainstream clubland and a mess of party undergrounds.

These overlapping systems have always been with us too, so I think “fragmentation” is what it feels like when their hierarchy is upset and shifting, which it certainly was in the early 90s. If you don’t understand the channels through which things become popular, their popularity might start seeming random, threatening almost.

And so, Tony Di Bart, who I wasn’t threatened by exactly but who certainly seemed random. I was quite unattuned to the places where this record had built a following, and I couldn’t imagine what anyone heard in it. Has time made things easier? The backing – “anthemic”, “pumping” and so forth – has had a rougher ride of it than Di Bart’s spooked, slightly murmured vocal. In fact, the vocal uses the confident production like a cheap cologne and a shiny suit, something to cover up how nervous and unsure its trailing-off platitudes are. There’s a vulnerability to “The Real Thing” which isn’t necessarily sympathetic – in the end, Di Bart sounds too wimpy, and his lines too rote, for me to really care about him. But it seems to me that this relative weakness and diffidence is also what let “The Real Thing” cut through and give the guy his hit.



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  1. 31
    Steve Mannion on 4 Jan 2013 #

    #28 I remember ‘Do It’, just about (as well as the two other CTD top 40 hits), but OHWs for me are more about the gap in success between an artist’s biggest hit and second biggest – and these acts not cracking the top 20 with their follow ups to such strong debuts means they pass my clearly rigorous and watertight qualification processes.

  2. 32
    Ricardo on 4 Jan 2013 #

    As an aside to my own comment at #30, it’s not as if Britpop itself will trouble Popular that much either.

  3. 33
    MikeMCSG on 4 Jan 2013 #

    # 26 “Mmm Mmm Mmm” actually fell to number four the week DiBart reached number one – that would have been more frustrating than Prince blocking it. Good to hear they’re still going – after buying three of their albums I finally accepted that “Mmm…” was a bit of a fluke and that voice over a dozen tracks is a bit wearing. Their best other song was the cover of XTC’s “Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” , a minor hit in 1995.

  4. 34
    Another Pete on 4 Jan 2013 #

    Son of Dave – the harmonica player/beat boxer/singer (thanks in part to loop pedals) is a former member of the Crash Test Dummies.

    I only really remember The Real Thing due the fact it was number 1 when I finished High School.

  5. 35
    thefatgit on 4 Jan 2013 #

    Well after careful listening and watching the YouTube video, I can fully understand how this one slips in and out of consciousness so quickly. The notion that the flat vocal makes “The Real Thing” so forgettable is only partly to blame. I would suggest there’s a lack of a pumping bassline to underpin all that synth-cappuccino froth. And yes, when that first piano chord struck, I was like “Oh it’s this one!”. I must own at least 2 compilations with it on, but it’s a skipper isn’t it?

  6. 36
    Mark G on 4 Jan 2013 #

    As I say above, it took a brief youtube to bring it back to mind, thanks to it’s ubiquitous titles..

    However, when I try to re-recall it, it keeps segueing into ‘You’re the best thing’ D-Ream, so….

  7. 37
    hardtogethits on 5 Jan 2013 #

    #36 well, that’s refreshing. I thought it was just me, but no “if I can’t have you, u r the best thing”. EVERY time.

    Two things about this record concerned me at the time. Firstly, the threat of it becoming a no.1 seemed to have gone – and then it did become number one. 13-6-3-3-1. Watching the charts avidly since 1978, this was the first record to go 3-3-1.

    But, why should I care? Why “the threat” not “the promise”?

    That’s the second point. Wanting number ones to either be astonishingly good, or to fit with the Rules of Consumer Behaviour as exemplified by chart runs – or preferably both. This failed on the first count too.

    Now, I’m no musicologist, but this is not astonishingly good. At the time it seemed to lack distinguishing features. As such, the “if I can’t have you” refrain seemed under employed. The lyric is utterly banal, the vocal weedy, the music – a sense of having heard it all before. Bad back then, and has worsened a little with age.

    I did a lyrics quiz (on paper) for work colleagues in the 90s. Every number one since 1978 was featured, one extract from each lyric. I explained the absence of Doop, Jack Your Body and any other largely-instrumental hits (don’t remember any, not looking it up). I struggled to pick anything out of this one that anyone might recognise, and when I finally did it was the only record no-one remembered / guessed / worked out.

  8. 38
    Izzy on 5 Jan 2013 #

    This is a great record, youse are all idiots. I’m genuinely amazed at all the claims not to remember a note – the chorus is one big hook, and there are others – it’s certainly a lot more memorable than Everything Changes. I get the point about Tony’s meekness, but a stronger vocal would’ve made this a completely different type of record. We’d’ve been into male diva vocal house territory, not superclub land (good genre spot, that). I’m not at all sure it’d’ve made for a better record.

    I enjoyed the video too, Tony jigging about self-consciously in Fuenteventura or somewhere, while the camera pursues a pleasingly elfin young thing. It’s all quintessential post-rave-post-balearica. Which is all good stuff imo and not necessarily in need of elevation – though this clip is elevated by virtue of Tony’s fine multilayered ultrabaggy red outfit, like a more splendid version of the girl’s tracksuit in SL2’s On A Ragga Tip.

    Anyway I hope Tony’s found it a lucrative endeavour. Finding out that Marion still pull in four grand a year from their non-career, I feel like those who’ve laid down even minor milestones for their era should get much greater reward.

  9. 39
    wichita lineman on 5 Jan 2013 #

    Can we sound the Baby Jump klaxon on Toni di Bart? Or is it is just people of a certain age who have no memory of The Real Thing?

    I’d suggest it’s the most obscure no.1 of the decade so far (now close to halfway through) and have been looking forward to its appearance on Popular for that reason alone.

  10. 40
    hardtogethits on 5 Jan 2013 #

    #39. yes, I concur it is literally the most “obscure” chart topper of the decade to this point in Popular, and I would demonstrate the stroboscope (if-you-don’t-look-hard-enough-you’ll-miss-it) effect thus: (bear with)

    If one were to look at historical singles charts, missing alternate weeks, and focusing intently on the Top 2 positions, this would be the first chart-topping record of the 90s that might escape one’s attention (there would be a 50% chance one would see it – whereas one would be guaranteed to see every other chart topper – if not in its prime then at no.2 as it advanced to or retreated from the top spot). Indeed, this would be the first since 1983’s “Candy Girl” by New Edition that might be missed in this way.

    Like Down Down in 1975, and The Model in 1982 (but that was because chart compilation schedules forced a strange 2-3-1-4-5 run, not because it spent a solitary week in the Top 2).

  11. 41
    speedwell54 on 6 Jan 2013 #

    Re 40. A fascinating observation. I have run with it, and did some quick research from my notes to see how frequent this situation is. (the issue with “The Model” does happen on one other occasion) If you will indulge me, this is on the whole about records that make No1 for 1 week and spend no time at No2.

    So, it happened 6 times in the 60s, twice in the 70s, twice in the 80s, 39 times in the 90s (all but Tony in the 95-99 years), 69 times in the 2000s, and 35 times so far in the 2010s.

    Whilst looking this up I hoped the results would mirror the 12 years 1996-2007 where the number of entries in the charts rocketed* and didn’t calm down again until after the download rule changes in 2007. It starts of well with the numbers increasing during the second half of the 90s, but they never really fall back again. Apart from a brief lull in 2007/8 where there is just once instance, it averages about 10 a year. Acts like McFly, Oasis, U2, JLS all helped the cause on more than one occasion. There is a bit of a theme; they all have a strong fanbase, but it’s not by any means an exclusive club, eg. Coverdrive, DJ Fresh, Perry, Brown, Mental, Am, Yo, Mix, Fenty, Harris, 1D, and the Collective all contributed last year.

    In some instances it does say “it’s not that good, but you have fans and your last single did well” A top 10 career,1-5-out, three weeks later everyone but the record company are denying it even went to No1! Equally it can say “the week after you hit No1 there were entries at No1 and No2 but you can still have a long life in the top 10. 1-4-5-6-6-6-7-7-7-7-7-(Rudimental) and people will remember the track.

    To conclude, when the volume of new entries increased in 1996, the number of high new entries also increased and it was far more likely that you could have one week at the top and no weeks at No2. In 2007 when the turnover returned to normal the number of high new entries was maintained and therefor the frequency of the brief No1 remains high.

    Witchita – although I can’t pretend not to know The Real Thing, it is “Baby Jump”. I think it will face a bit of competition for the most obscure No1 as we move through the 90s.

    *see Tom’s notes under “The Strange Death of the UK Charts”

  12. 42
    hardtogethits on 7 Jan 2013 #

    Thanks Speedwell for the further research and insight.

    And for NOT pointing out my daft error – I overlooked FGTH’s “The Power Of Love” didn’t I? Nudged out by new entries at 1 and 2. I didn’t overlook Sad Sweet Dreamer, I just didn’t mention it!

    Another way of stating the case about The Real Thing would be to say that if one employs the method of ranking in the GRR / Guinness book UK Top 1000 singles* then Tony Di Bart would be the lowest ranked no.1 single of the 90s so far. But I stress, that is another way of saying the same thing, not an alternative perspective.

    I also note that all the instances in the 60s occurred before the “common chart era”. (Didn’t they?)

    And, oh, oh, oh – what’s the other example that’s like The Model? Should I know? Can I have a clue?

    * This is a book that I look at so rarely that I can’t find it, nor can I be sure I am giving it its correct title. That is a shame because I rather like it, stark simplicity and all. I hope it hasn’t made its way to the charity bag!

  13. 43
    Mark G on 7 Jan 2013 #

    Diff tack: Here is a title that is the same as another act that had a number one

    Tony Di Bart -> The Real Thing -> You To Me Are Everything

    Are there any longer such chains?

  14. 44
    Lazarus on 7 Jan 2013 #

    Nothing found so far … very few number ones have also been the name of a chart act (apart from eponymous numbers of course). The only three I’ve found so far are ‘Free’ , ‘Heart’ and ‘Hello’ with near-misses for ‘The Reflex’ and ‘Frankie.’

  15. 45
    punctum on 7 Jan 2013 #


    This is a great record, youse are all idiots.

    Two points:
    1. Why did you have to start an otherwise interesting post in such a confrontational (and, I have to point out, ungrammatical) manner?

    2. Care to tell us what you’re really upset about?

  16. 46
    Mark G on 7 Jan 2013 #

    1. to make us read it? (like we wouldn’t..)

    2. Some of us said we liked it.

  17. 47
    James BC on 7 Jan 2013 #

    Re whether this is the most obscure number one of the decade so far. I nominate three other contenders:

    1. Turtle Power (Partners in Kryme) – I could actually rap a fair bit of the first verse, but if you weren’t a fan of the Turtles I imagine you wouldn’t remember this at all.

    2. Healing Hands (Elton John) – The flipside of Sacrifice, which I for one certainly couldn’t hum and may never have heard. But technically a number 1 song.

    3. Game Boy (KWS) – Another alleged double A side, I have definitely never heard this and was surprised to find it listed – I thought Please Don’t Go was number 1 on its own. But according to Popular at least, it’s in the books.

  18. 48
    Steve Mannion on 7 Jan 2013 #

    ‘Turtle Power’ was from the biggest toy/movie tie-in that year tho so surely memorable enough for many on that basis at least.

    ‘Healing Hands’ did actually have a video and ended up getting as much airtime as ‘Sacrifice’ towards the end of its chart reign, but fair to suggest it would never have done anywhere near as well on its own.

    I’ve still never heard ‘Game Boy’ but do remember it listed as an AA at the time.

    The first #1 I couldn’t tell you anything about as a song is still three years away I think.

  19. 49
    Mark G on 7 Jan 2013 #

    Well, there’s always “Anitina” for impossible to remember ‘other’ double-A side hits. Conversely, there’s the ‘not often played but hear once and you remember it’ examples like “Girl School”, which ooh ooh another chart act linky!

  20. 50
    thefatgit on 7 Jan 2013 #

    “Dreams Of Children” is another one.

  21. 51
    Chelovek na lune on 7 Jan 2013 #

    “Healing Hands” had been a minor hit in its own right in 1989 (as indeed had been “Sacrifice” – it certainly got a fair amount of radio airplay first time out where I was living (and is probably more obviously catchy than “Sacrifice”, even if it a bit EJ-by-numbers). Certainly a much bigger airplay hit for Elton than quite a few of his other singles from the same sort of period (e.g. “I Don’t Wanna Go On With You Like That”, erm,…whatever it’s follow up was called, the actually rather lovely “A Word In Spanish”, or “The Club At The End Of The Street”.

    I suppose the Billy Bragg/Cara Tivey 1988 AA is pretty obscure (even if it did net them a TOTP appearance)

  22. 52
    Mark G on 7 Jan 2013 #

    .. memorable (on TOTP) for the line “sommmtkleaving home after living alone ..”

    Anyway, this is in danger of getting a bit bunny, innit?

  23. 53
    Mutley on 7 Jan 2013 #

    Re 48. and toy/movie tie-ins with a #1 hit (Partners in Kryme – Turtle Power). I was hoping to add The Ballad of Davy Crockett (early 1956) to that exclusive list. Davy Crockett “coonskin” hats were all the rage with small boys for about one week (still widely available on Google Image), there was a successful Disney film starring Fess Parker, and Bill Hayes had a #1 US hit with TBODC. Sadly, it didn’t make #1 in the UK, but was at UK #2 and #3 in two separate versions (which must add up to an honorary #1?) – Bill Hayes and Tennessee Ernie Ford respectively – in January 1956 with the Max Bygraves version creeping into the top twenty in February.

  24. 54
    Izzy on 7 Jan 2013 #

    #45: I suppose on one level (boredom?) I was hoping to provoke a tedious busybody response, so thanks for obliging. I was also paraphrasing Alex Ferguson, for no particular reason.

    On another level – and do bear in mind I’m not really annoyed, it was a lighthearted remark, and we’re analysing Tony di Bart for goodness’ sake – there is probably a certain frustration at the groupthink dismissing this record, which I’ve always thought pretty fine. A dissenting view is often useful, and there’s little point in it sidling in unnoticed and spending the rest of thread in the kitchen.

  25. 55
    punctum on 7 Jan 2013 #

    #54: Bit of a cop out; again you resort to beginning with an ad hominem attack.

    I reiterate; what’s the real reason for your discomfort?

  26. 56
    Izzy on 7 Jan 2013 #

    I can’t deny it, except that the attack (such as it was) was on #45, not its author.

    I don’t understand why you’d think I’d be uncomfortable though? I explained the reason for my not-actual-annoyance already.

  27. 57
    speedwell54 on 7 Jan 2013 #

    Mark G at 43, could only come up with one, and I can’t believe we could ever have a longer chain unless you can persuade One Direction or Rihanna to call their next single “Overlanders” or “Tony Di Bart”.

    Overlanders-Michelle-All This Time.

    Close are;
    Pet Shop Boys-Heart-Alone (only made No2 here but No1 in the US)
    Razorlight-America-Horse With No Name (No3 here but No1 in the US)
    Deniece Williams- Free- All Right Now (No2 here)

    Hardtogethits -I think I remember the book you’re talking about, and roughly how it was laid out with columns for weeks at No1, weeks at No2 etc so it could rank all the singles by chart positions rather than sales. Other hit a bit like the Model; – the cd came in a protective sleeve/ jacket.

    Well done Izzy.

  28. 58
    wichita lineman on 8 Jan 2013 #

    Re 43: Pet Clark on the Today programme – a little overshadowed by the Bowie story but sounding a lot younger than 80 – made me think of:

    Petula Clark->Sailor->A Glass Of Champagne (NME no.1… I think)

    ps Speedwell! Don’t anger the bunny!

  29. 59
    punctum on 8 Jan 2013 #

    #56: We both know that’s not the real reason.

  30. 60
    tm on 8 Jan 2013 #

    #38: I’m amazed Marion made four grand a year in their heyday! But then Greg from Big Flame told me he still gets royalty cheques for radio play which is surprising given the somewhat, ahem, challenging nature of their music… The bassist from Marion used to work on the door of the Night & Day cafe in Manchester. He looked like he’d been on the needle. In other rubbish, forgotten indie news* the drummer from Haven told a mutual friend he blew £100k on blow which kind of explains why the record industry ended up the spout if they were giving Haven that sort of money to stick up their noses.

    *obviously this slur does not apply to Big Flame!

  31. 61
    Patrick Mexico on 10 Apr 2013 #

    I agree completely with #38. None of you are idiots for finding this a bit “weak” and “generic” – yes, it is a bit fey and distant, if compared to the clubland number 1s of the late eighties and (very) early nineties. But it’s 1994, not 1989. Stock, Aitken and Waterman seem gone. It’s fine to like football again. Blur have somehow rewritten Boys (Summertime Love) and saved their career. It’s just great, well-executed, subtle, shimmery, summery trance-pop isn’t it? And it’s a triumph for the underdog that a “bathroom salesman from Buckinghamshire” can usurp an (admittedly favourite of mine) megastar whose own name he can’t now even pronounce.


    However, straight in at number 39 this week – 15 behind Sonic Youth! – is a record which will split opinions and provoke more fiery arguments than Marmite, or even Thatcher:
    N-Trance – Set You Free.

  32. 62
    Erithian on 27 May 2013 #

    So utterly forgettable that I thought it must be a companion piece to Robin Beck’s “First Time”, flogging Coca-Cola to the masses. On seeing it again on the TOTP YouTube clip, it’s horribly weedy even for the type of puner it’s pitched at, which certainly isn’t me.

  33. 63
    Cotton Bud on 6 Nov 2020 #

    I was part of the team that produced this record, for my sins.

    There’s some accuracy and some misconception in the comments here about this track, so if you’d like an insider’s view, believe it or not I recount the story in some detail as an aside in this blog about camping!


    Skip down to the bit titled ‘In Tents Experience 3 : 1994 – Telford, Shrophire ‘ to read all about ‘The Soul Singer From Slough’

  34. 64
    Gareth Parker on 29 Apr 2021 #

    I also kind of like this one. Yes Di Bart’s vocal is on the weak side, but there is a sort of spacy or floaty quality to this song. 6 or 7 for me.

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