Jun 13

ROBSON AND JEROME – “Unchained Melody”/”The White Cliffs Of Dover”

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#722, 20th May 1995

On Soldier Soldier’s Wikipedia page there’s a list of the places each season of the military drama was set- where Robson Green and Jerome Flynn’s squaddie characters were sent. Hong Kong, Cyprus, New Zealand… after Iraq, and a dozen years fighting in Afghanistan, the idea of a show about serving UK soldiers needing to get its drama from New Zealand seems bizarre, something out of a lost time.

But some things are constant: Britain is fond of its troops, whatever they’re asked to do. And when people start playing with ideas of Britishness and patriotism it’s no surprise to see a flash or two of khaki as the stereotypes parade. So, for the uninitiated or forgetful: this was number one for seven weeks, famously keeping Pulp’s “Common People” off the top. The singers are actors, who played soldiers in a long-running military soap. In one episode they have to do a bit of karaoke, and this is what they chose. Who, asked swooning viewers, will bring us this masterpiece on CD Single? A flash! – a whiff of sulphur! – enter Simon Cowell.

Cowell knocked together a recording, got it released, and it became the best selling single of the year. A great coup for the budding Svengali – perhaps, with a less handsome Robson Greene and a less sentimental public, the single would have flopped and much later grief might have been averted. Alas no.

Is the song any good? Yes, it’s “Unchained Melody”, it’s a great song. We were, of course, reminded of that only four years ago, but this is a standard (Simon likes standards) and there’s always room for a good recording. Is the recording any good? Ah. The singing’s – well, it’s passable, though terribly thin: we’ve heard worse from actors and we’ll hear worse again. Robson And Jerome don’t have the chops to handle the dynamics of “Unchained Melody”, but they’re not the worst thing about it.*

The backing however…if the brief was to recreate a karaoke system version of the Wall of Sound, then the brief was amply fulfilled. This is a very cheap sounding record. Cowell needed a hit, he called Stock and Aitken, late of “…and Waterman”, they said fine, and then in thirty seconds time, or at least that’s what it sounds like, he had a track. The drums are Tupperware, the keyboards toytown, the horns and guitars sound like Windows 95 alert sounds. The string parts – let’s call them strings – sound like they’re made from the kind of fabric Jarvis Cocker sings about. The one spark of intelligence on display is mixing this stuff high in time to cover up Robson (or Jerome) singing “Are you still miiiine?” and finally spluttering to the end of their range. Good sense from Stock and Aitken there. No need to give the enemy propaganda. There’s a war on, dammit! In New Zealand!

For the biggest hit of 1995, this has left almost no cultural mark. Robson Greene was a star for a few more years, Soldier Soldier wobbled on without him and Jerome for a little while, the song endured this insult and braced itself for the next one. But in one respect it’s important. It’s the moment Simon Cowell learned a very lucrative lesson: TV is far, far bigger than pop. You want to sell to common people? Give a TV audience an excuse to buy a single and the charts are yours to crush.

*(Which is which? The AA-side – by name only, it was barely played – gives them more to do separately. One has a firm, bland voice; the other is soft and paper-thin, almost creepily polite. Neither are strong. “The White Cliffs Of Dover” is still better than “Unchained Melody” thanks to its hilarious gospel breakdown – the only bold production choice made here. “When the world is free” sounds a bit like a gospel lyric, and now it is one, though on the evidence presented God has little to do with this record.)



  1. 1
    Mark G on 25 Jun 2013 #

    One morning, I woke up, as I often do, with a “new” song in my head. Often, I struggle to remember it past 30 mins of awakeness, sometimes I decide it’s not worth saving, sometimes I write it down, Jasper.

    Anyway, one time I ended up with a bit of “Post-Punk” called “Stupid Little Soldier”, the rest of the lyric got lost in the mist, but I did reflect that this may, possibly, be the only way you could get banned in this day and age. Imagine, not supporting “our Boys”…

  2. 2
    Izzy on 25 Jun 2013 #

    SAW have come up before, and I feel like we’ve been unduly kind to their efforts (Ferry Aid apart). But really, why do these backing tracks have to be so bad?! The same goes for nearly everything I’ve heard from the ensuing formula (Girls Aloud the exception – so far as I can tell, anyone else has to pay their dues before being allowed to do anything bold).

    These are guys who know how to work a studio, what could go wrong if they threw in a jazz chord or turned the beat around? Would it really put anyone off a record like this?

  3. 3
    Tom on 25 Jun 2013 #

    BTW there are areas I’ve not really got into on this (already longish!) entry because – bunny be damned – I have to deal with these simps TWO MORE TIMES.

  4. 4
    Tom on 25 Jun 2013 #

    #2 this is just SA, W had broken up the ‘band’ by this point. I think cheap sounding production is fine when you’re going for a tinny back of the car walkman radio rush, but on something like this it stands out, particularly as the original is still fairly fresh in buyers’ memories.

    Obviously the buyers didn’t give a fuck, though.

  5. 5
    Chelovek na lune on 25 Jun 2013 #

    I had no idea to the background to this song nor knew anything about the TV series (other than its name): but, God, this is awful. So it WAS intended to sound like two blokes (and not the finest pair of singers) with a shit karaoke machine then!.

    I had assumed (evidently wrongly) that the series was set in WWII, and this was a 50th anniversary thing – an inferior downturn from “Singalongawaryears” Max Bygraves, or for that matter from one of the pretty decent Lost Number 36 hits of 1982, Stutz Bear Catz “The Song That I Sing” (with proper orchestral backing – which is really what is required here), the theme tune from a contemporaneous ITV drama set in WWII, “We’ll meet Again”.

    Evidently a case of the public being given what they want, rather than what they should want. Pure dross, even for such a great song.

  6. 6
    Charlie on 25 Jun 2013 #

    The music for ‘Soldier, Soldier’ was arranged by my then girlfriend’s Dad (Jim Parker), and obviously he oversaw the karaoke episode. So indirectly he led to this this being inflicted on the nation, hence I hold him responsible. I broke up with his daughter shortly afterwards.

  7. 7
    Cumbrian on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Placing my cards on the table, I know Unchained Melody is meant to be an unimpeachable classic, but I hate it, going round and round on its piano figure and boring the life out of me. Bobby Hatfield’s version does have chops, I’ll give it that, and as a result, I have slightly more regard for The Righteous Brothers take on the song than the multiplicity of other versions.

    So, when you take all of the ability out of the vocal and replace it with something thin and nasal, you’re not winning any points with me. I’m disappointed that I have listened to this again to be honest, but I felt I had to in order to make sure that I wasn’t being totally unfair.

    Tom is right about the instrumentation – the vocals set a low bar and the backing comfortably limbos under it. I can’t agree about White Cliffs of Dover though. If anything, it is even worse. The track itself seems to have been done on one of the presets of an old Casio “My First Keyboard”, by turns tinkling and lacking in depth. The vocals, naturally, are rubbish. Poor old Dame Vera.

    Besides the well-known Common People fact, Tom mentions, this also kept Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me by U2 off number 1 – a record for which I have a sneaking regard. Sort of the bridge between Achtung Baby and Pop, it never really takes itself too seriously, unlike some of U2’s other, more po-faced, efforts. It would have made a good #1 in my view.

    Soldier Soldier though eh? Must have had a substantial number of fans who bought this at Tesco. At least both of these guys went on to better and more interesting things – though not before torturing us two more times – whether it be going fishing or being a double hard bastard in Game of Thrones.

  8. 8
    Tom on 25 Jun 2013 #

    I had completely forgotten Jerome Flynn ended up in Game Of Thrones, and I’ve only seen the first couple of episodes, so I’ve not actually seen him in it! Well well well.

    And I also assumed until starting the “research” for this that it was a series set in WW2. To be fair the sleeve isn’t exactly trying to avoid those associations – more of nostalgia and R&J next time we see them, though.

  9. 9
    Cumbrian on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Have you read the books Tom? If not, I won’t spoil it. Jerome got a damn good part though – one of my favourites. It would be great if Robson turns up in some battle somewhere, only for Jerome to dismember him.

  10. 10
    Tom on 25 Jun 2013 #

    #9 No I haven’t – having got through most of Robert Jordan I decided I’d read enough unfinished fantasy monstrosities for one lifetime, and the TV series seems a much better way to experience GoT. But I don’t have much time for watching, so I’ll struggle through it slowly.

  11. 11
    Cumbrian on 25 Jun 2013 #

    #10 Having read the books, I would say that the way to experience GoT is through the TV series. The books have great plots but the details and the length can be a bit of a slog – but I guess, it has regularly been thus in fantasy fiction. The TV series gets to the meat of the matter a bit more. The performances are good too. About the only advantage of being a book reader is that what might seem like the rather weird decisions made by the writers/directors with respect to focus on certain characters are based on the books, so it helps in not getting infuriated. I’m watching with my girlfriend who hasn’t read the books and she gets a bit pissed off when the narrative sails away from something interesting to go and focus on a character she doesn’t care about as much.

  12. 12
    MichaelH on 25 Jun 2013 #

    And let’s not forget that Robson Greene remains a huge star, in such shows as Robson Greene’s Extreme Fishing.

  13. 13
    punctum on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Evidently a case of the public being given what they want, rather than what they should want.

    Come on, that’s why the war was fought, to stop people who thought like that!

    Jim Parker from those lovely old John Betjeman records, eh? Well, I suppose everyone has to earn a living.

    I wonder if Robson is now primarily going to be thought of as a hard man angler rather than an actor. What was the last big drama he was in? Seems a while ago, now.

    Again I’m taking the fifth amendment with this record because it does appear on a number one album and I’ll have something to say about it on TPL when the time comes/if I still have the will and energy to be doing it then. Five more of these to come in 1995, as well.

  14. 14
    James BC on 25 Jun 2013 #

    I’d never seen Soldier Soldier, never heard of these guys and had no idea the song was coming out until it appeared at number 1 on the Chart Show. What the hell?

    I don’t begrudge it existing, though. I’m sure it made a lot of people very happy, and I prefer it to Hold Me Thrill Me etc which just seems to go on and on and on and is impossible to dance to.

  15. 15
    wichita lineman on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Does anyone else listen to a commercial radio station in the morning? Then you’ll be familiar with the advert for Armed Forces Day, on which Ray Winstone (or, to be fair to the gambling enabler, possibly a soundalike) introduces a string of actors pretending to be members of the public, all with a simple-minded explanation for why they’ll be supporting “our boys.” This is the musical equivalent.

    Soldier Soldier, good grief. We were between wars (Gulf War I and Kosovo) – normally we’d need one to push a record like this to the top (Korea for Vera Lynn’s sheet music no.1 Auf Wiedersehen in ’52, Suez for Ann Shelton’s Lay Down Your Arms in ’56, Afghanistan/Iraq for at least two bunnied entries).

    So Simon Cowell spotted a gap in the market for a noxious mixture of sentimentality, romance, nostalgia (where’s our Blitz spirit gone?!) and patriotism. I’m not surprised that people thought Soldier Soldier was set in WWII. The only reason I remember it being set in the modern day was because a friend-of-a-friend Lesley Vickerage was in it, and rather modernly took her clothes off.

    Re 7: Unchained Melody first had the piano figure on the Righteous Brothers version – the 50s hit recordings (including Liberace’s one and only chart placing) are surprisingly varied. And often very good.

  16. 16
    Nixon on 25 Jun 2013 #

    I’ve called a few records “bad karaoke”, or some variation on that theme, but this one’s slightly different. They’re not great singers, but they’re not awful, albeit with those voices they’ve chosen completely the wrong song out of the book here. What this is isn’t bad karaoke, it’s just karaoke, recreated absolutely exactly.

    Which explains why it was a hit (I may be remembering wrong, but I have a vague memory of this going to #1 a week or two before the Michael Jackson/Pulp records hit, and some R1 midweek DJ announcing that it was going to go to #1 automatically on the strength of the vast amounts of pre-orders). Karaoke with your friends is fun. Watching a bunch of strangers of varying talent doing karaoke is not fun. But the TV show racked up vast numbers of viewers to place those vast amounts of pre-orders, many of them older, most of them not traditionally singles buyers, and for those buyers, R&J were indeed their friends.

    Or we can call this a throwback to Whispering Grass, although R&J’s future bunnyable #1s (with their “comedy” videos) fit that description a bit better.

    Two personal memories. I disliked Soldier Soldier because my elderly aunt came to visit one evening and made us change the channel over to it from Reeves & Mortimer. I disliked White Cliffs of Dover because even though I’d never heard of Vera Lynn, at a school music quiz aged somewhere around 10, in a “fill in the blanks” round, I answered “BLUEBIRDS OVER…” with “The Mountain”, a Beach Boys/Ersel Hickey reference because those were the sorts of records my parents listened to in the car. 0 points, and the injustice still burns.

    Weirdly, even though Pulp are my favourite band of all time, I don’t hold any grudge against R&J for this at all. Other than its being crap, I mean.

  17. 17
    James BC on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Was this the first Cowell number 1? He’d been around for a bit by then, and I believe he’d even done the TV tie-in wheeze before with a couple of hits ‘sung’ ‘by’ WWF wrestlers. What else did he try before this?

  18. 18
    Cumbrian on 25 Jun 2013 #

    #15 Cheers for that. I should listen to a few and see whether my opinion changes.

  19. 19
    Billy Hicks on 25 Jun 2013 #

    It begins with a fall.

    The door opens up beneath you and you drop into darkness. The sound echoes around the room, filling your mind. A repetitive, incessant sound of rumbling bass and treblesome shakes.

    An unassuming, spectacled man forms in front of you, only barely being able to make him out. He speaks in a staccato, slow, almost whisper of a voice, fixating and probing his gaze into yours. Although his words are strange you feel compelled to listen, like the lines he describes form the most important story ever told. The bass drills in your stomach ever deeper, the volume of voice and sound gradually, inconspicuously increasing.

    Thump, thump, thump, THUMP the room begins to pound, like a giant above is strolling through his morning walk. But all you can see, all you can focus on is this one man, and this one voice. Something is building. You can feel it. Your ears begin to bleed from the intensity of the surrounding soundscape. The voice feels captured inside a box, a box getting thinner and thinner and imminently this voice is going to break out of this box and burst alive. It’s coming. You can’t stop it, and neither can him. She didn’t understand, he warns.

    She just smiled. And held his hand.

    LIGHTS. We jump from darkness to the brightest most powerful most dazzling white lights ever emitted. The man, and the voice is set free. He jumps, dances, screams around the room, bellowing out his words. Raw, euphoric, animalistic energy surrounds you and you have no choice but to dance with him. Climbing and flying off walls, spinning, running, singing along because it might just get you through and laughing, laughing even though they’re laughing at you. Shaking off the weight of the WORLD because this is all that matters and you don’t care how long it lasts because this is your moment. And you want to be with this man – in this state – forever.

    You fall again, this time to the floor. The lights, now filled with colour, continue to shine. The bass continues, quietly. The sweat pours off you and soaks you in a puddle beneath. You’re short of breath, your throat and voice are bitterly shot to pieces, you feel that this may well be it. This may be your final moments, your final resting place, and he was there to see it. With the tiniest muscle of energy you have left, your eyes move to where he is. He too is on the floor, trembling from the power that just overwhelmed you both. He’s whispering something. You can’t quite hear – the music is too loud. But the whisper becomes a mumble. Becomes speech. Becomes shouting. He wants to live like you. You. And in one final throe, he screams that magical world. Y, O, U, YOU. Your lifeless body is flown around the room, his voice controlling you. Flying higher, higher, higher, up to the ceiling, the light getting brighter and brighter and brighter…

    …and you awake, back where you started. Before the fall. You pick yourself up, wearily dust yourself down, and return to reality.

    And wonder why the hell the British public chose two blokes from the telly singing a 50s song instead.

  20. 20
    punctum on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Got things to say about that one as well (to a point; Lena will, I’m pretty sure, have a lot more to say about it on MSBTW). But not the things I might have said about it in 1995.

  21. 21
    Tom on 25 Jun 2013 #

    I am actually quite grateful that I don’t have to go back to it again – when we did Poptimists on LJ it felt like there were about twenty threads arguing about “Common People”, and it’s the kind of entry that would have caused a 3-week umming and ahhing over writing, at exactly the wrong time. I know what mark it would have got, I think.

  22. 22
    anto on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Vienna schmienna. This is proof that pop like life just ain’t fair.

  23. 23
    AlexN on 25 Jun 2013 #

    “But some things are constant: Britain is fond of its troops …”

    and #15

    This is an interesting one because I’d always assumed that this sort of patriotism – and its expression in pop culture – were at an all time low in the mid-nineties, that in the absence of a “proper war”, and with the monarchy mired in its 1992-97 nadir, a less martial, vaguely countercultural version of Britishness (ie. Britpop and its offshoots) came to define the era.

    But maybe, in light of this entry, that theory is total bollocks.

    Cowell’s strategy was particularly clinical given that this was released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of VE Day the previous week. Common People might have won out without the leg-up WCOD provided in that context.

  24. 24
    wichita lineman on 25 Jun 2013 #

    I like the way Let Robeson Sing is a related post. I’d always assumed that was about Paul Robeson, but obviously the Manics loved a spot of khaki karaoke.

  25. 25
    Tom on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Soldier Soldier had already been going on for 5 years so there was plenty of time for a head of fondness to build up for the characters – obviously draping oneself in the flag isn’t ALWAYS a route one method of getting to the top – as Lineman says there does usually need to be an actual war on. And while the militarisation of British life now is WAY ahead of anything in the 90s – nobody back then was assuming ex-soldiers should waltz into teaching jobs – I don’t remember there ever being a distaste for the army. The monarchy is a different matter, and obviously there’s an entry in a while where we’ll get plenty of time to talk about that.

  26. 26
    wichita lineman on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Re 22: Pulp scoring a brace of #2 hits seems miraculous enough to me. I’d settle for that if I were them.

  27. 27
    Kat but logged out innit on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Does anyone else listen to a commercial radio station in the morning?

    Not now, but I was in 1995, to the extent that my 100% legally acquired copy of Hold Me Thrill Me Kill Me Kiss Me Etc (the only U2 song I’ve ever had any time for, for Batman Reasons) had Chris Tarrant’s burbly Krusty The Klown laugh over the end ‘WuHUH-ell it’s five past eight and you’re listening to’ *hits jingle button* Capital Efffff Emmmmm. This would come to bite me in the bum a few weeks later during the last Music lesson of the year, in which everyone could bring in a tape of ‘whatever song you like right now’. I was umming and aahing about whether to take in this or Karmacoma by Massive Attack, went for the U2 because at least I understood what that one was about (it was about Batman) (Karmacoma had the word ‘Karma’ in it which might have been something to do with the Karma Sutra i.e. SEX which would have been INSTANT MORTIFICATION in the classroom). At first it seemed like the right choice! I got some approving nods from the cool boys (who liked Nirvana as well) (I couldn’t bring in Nirvana though as that wouldn’t have been cool) (they all brought in Green Day). But then I had to dive over to where Ms Hartley was sat with the tape player before bloody Tarrant started chortling and arrrrrrrgh I didn’t quite get there in time…. *weeps* O FOR A TIME MACHINE (still wouldn’t have picked Karmacoma though).

    Ms Hartley was the only teacher I ever got a detention off.

  28. 28
    Cumbrian on 25 Jun 2013 #

    #15 A quick run around Youtube has brought me to the following conclusions:

    The piano figure is the thing that really pisses me off. It’s not the tune. So thanks for the heads up.

    Al Green and Sam Cooke’s versions are thus far my favourite. Soft and questioning, as opposed to strident and pleading. Very good.

    Liberace is florid and sounds like what the original was, a soundtrack for a film. This is a good thing to my ears, though less affecting than Al or Sam for me.

    Jimmy Young’s version is worse than the Hatfield/Righteous version, even though the latter has my least favourite piano on it.

    I reminded myself of Righteous and bunny versions. I couldn’t bring myself to listen to Fisherman and Bronn the Sellsword’s version again. I feel like I have been sold a dummy on this tune by the British public.

  29. 29
    AlexN on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Yeah, I was thinking that this is a sort of silent majority record for the nineties. Maybe it was just a TV spin off.

  30. 30
    punctum on 25 Jun 2013 #

    #28: there was another one… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqqNsyHajb0

  31. 31
    Mark G on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Yes, that was reissued about this time, I got the CD single.

    A friend, after I played it to him, said “um, do you just, like, buy *everything*?”

    hmmph. What does he know? It’s Spike Milligan!

  32. 32
    Cumbrian on 25 Jun 2013 #

    #30: Though I do indeed remember Eccles, I was not aware of this. The music is quite good in a ramshackle sort of way!

  33. 33
    MichaelH on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Mention of Jarvis enables me to roll out my Cocker related trivia question (wichita lineman knows the answer). Three Yorkshire-affiliated men called Cocker have sung on UK top three hits. Jarvis is one. Joe is another. Who’s the third?

  34. 34
    weej on 25 Jun 2013 #

    I have little to say about this pointless record, except that I also don’t really mind it keeping Common People off the top. If it had gone all the way I fear that it would dominate the band’s history even more than it does now. And as Wichita says, two number 2s and another three top 10 hits isn’t at all bad for a bunch of freaks, mis-shapes and weeds.

  35. 35
    Erithian on 25 Jun 2013 #

    #33 – sir, me sir me sir me! You’re referring to Les Cocker, trainer to the England World Cup Squad in 1970, whose voice is presumably well down in the mix of “Back Home”.

    Much the coolest TV programme Robson Green has been involved in is Being Human. Playing a werewolf, the role called for him to appear naked more than once, and his arse gained quite a fan club.

  36. 36
    James BC on 25 Jun 2013 #

    #33 Did a Yorkshireman called Pete Cocker fill in the high bits of Nancy Sinatra’s part on Somethin’ Stupid?

  37. 37
    MichaelH on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Erithian gets the Crackerjack pencil! It was indeed Les Cocker, Leeds United and England trainer, for his memorable participation on Back Home.

  38. 38
    thefatgit on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Oh, soldier, soldier won’t you marry me/ with your musket fife and drum?

    Oh no, miss maid I cannot marry you/ for I have a wife of my own…

    The series was a big success and its two everyman stars were not your archetypal leading men…

    And perhaps Soldier Soldier’s success gives us a slew of military themed dramas in its wake; Sean Bean (Game Of Thrones again!) in Sharpe, Ioan Gruffudd in Hornblower and Ross Kemp in Ultimate Force.

    I sort of remember the Karaoke episode echoing Maverick & Goose from Top Gun. The premise of revealing vulnerability behind the macho armour that all alpha-male types do work so hard to protect. All the girls swoon, and lo and behold Simon Cowell gets the alpha-males in the studio. Stock & Aitken put together a backing track possibly created entirely by computer, and the public in their droves hoover it up and propel it to the top. The very same common people indirectly referred to by Jarvis, keep Pulp at #2. Deduce what you will from that.

    Injustice it may seem, but oldies radio has come down firmly on the side of Pulp in the long run, if you considered both songs on the strength of radio play alone.

    Here’s a thing… is there an instance of one particular song performed by different artists getting to the top or near the top of the Billboard Chart?

  39. 39
    fivelongdays on 25 Jun 2013 #

    As mentioned upthread, Jerome has more than atoned for KEEPING COMMON PEOPLE OFF NUMBER ONE, THE BASTARD by being ace in Game of Thrones (which, other than Doctor Who OBVIOUSLY is the Greatest Show Ever Made), and I can even sort of forgive Robson for KEEPING COMMON PEOPLE OFF NUMBER ONE, THE BASTARD for being in the likeable Being Human.

    It’s odd, though, because this DOMINATED the charts. I didn’t watch Soldier, Soldier, and was shocked when it got to number one. As for the song – meh, Kareoke, a good song, but done blandly. And it KEPT COMMON PEOPLE (which I can’t really say anything new about, suffice to say it’s easily a 10) OFF NUMBER ONE, THE BASTARD.

    Oh, and I rather like HMTMKMKM – it would prob get a 6 or 7 from me.

  40. 40
    wichitalineman on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Re 38: I could be wrong but I think The Locomotion has been a Billboard #1 for Little Eva, Grand Funk Railroad and Kylie. The Twist was number one twice, both times by Chubby Checker.

    Re 33: I did know, but only because you told me. And I’d forgotten the answer. I feel ashamed (but not as ashamed as Kat).

    Re 28: Very good. Sam Cooke could sing the proverbial phone directory etcet.

  41. 41
    fivelongdays on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Ooops – forgot to say. This one’s a two (hence my having to revise my mark for Dreamer!)

  42. 42
    Another Pete on 25 Jun 2013 #

    My nan use to complain that one of them never looked at the camera when he sang.

  43. 43
    Cumbrian on 25 Jun 2013 #

    #41 And with that 2 overhauls St Winifred’s School Choir on the Readers’ Bottom 100.

    For a little while there, R&J were on a flat 1 from the readers. I think I noted 200 views and still a flat 1 before it started to uptick (not that 200 views equals anything like 200 people and therefore 200 marks).

  44. 44
    Tom on 25 Jun 2013 #

    This was No.1 during my finals and when I left University, incidentally. I don’t remember it in that context at all – it was all about “Common People”, which I do remember, sitting around discussing the politics of it on the steps of an Oxford College Quad, on a gorgeous evening, subsidised beer firmly in hand. While the people in the discussion were from a pretty wide variety of backgrounds, it still seemed incongruous.

  45. 45
    thefatgit on 25 Jun 2013 #

    I’d like to add that Billy Hicks’ description of “Common People” @19 is a thing of beauty. Thanks Billy.

  46. 46
    mapman132 on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Oh boy. I was waiting for this one because I was curious what kind of reaction it would get, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed….

    First, as an American, I of course never actually heard this record until I found it on Youtube a couple days ago (more on that below). That being said, my fascination with the UK chart was never quite the same after this one. By this point, my favorite radio show, UK Chart Attack, was off the air, and I was mainly following the chart via the weekly postings of James Masterton (noticed his name hasn’t come up here before – is there a reason for that?). So I was aware only that a karaoke version of Unchained Melody by two TV actors somehow debuted at number one. This of course sounded totally ridiculous to US-me, but I had managed to look past the likes of Blobby and Man U before. It was only after it then proceeded to become the biggest UK seller of the decade to date that I realized the Hot 100’s endless Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men wasn’t so bad after all. Suffice it to say that I continued to follow the UK chart, and will continue to post here, but again, it was never quite the same for me.

    So as for the recording itself, I listened to both songs on Youtube a couple days ago for the first time. And while I wasn’t as horrified as I could have been, I was very underwhelmed. I mean, if you want to buy Unchained Melody, why not just get the Righteous Brothers version?? Of course this could be said of many, many remakes. I guess I just don’t get “it”.

    Finally, I did listen to “Common People” for the first time a few years ago. A *great* record that really deserved to be UK#1, and I wish it had reached these shores back in 95. The fact that these two doofuses blocked both it, and later Oasis’s masterpiece, is about as great a travesty as one will ever find on a music chart.

  47. 47
    Tom on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Re. James Masterton – no slight intended! I didn’t read his stuff though, and while I *was* on the Internet at this point I was much more on comics USENET than music USENET – the University servers didn’t get the alt. hierarchy. More on the mid-90s web in a bit though, probably the next Oasis No.1.

  48. 48

    We are a martial nation — as peoples all over the globe have had sour reason to know for centuries now — so it’s actually a bit strange that we don’t have a fvckton *MORE* TV drama based in this general area. As far as I remember it — of course I watched it, I watch everything — Soldier Soldier was pretty much in the slipstream of Auf Wiedersehen Pet or London’s Burning (not to mention any number of hospital drama and The Bill) without being as good as any of them (or anyway as memorable). Which is a pity, because it seems to me that the peacetime army is every bit as rich a topic for serial drama, as, say, British Gästarbeiten: the treatment needn’t be “hard-hitting” or “issues-based” — AWP was in a sense about class and unemployment (certainly it wasn’t stupid about these), but it was mainly about a mixed gang of ne’er-do-wells getting into ridiculous scrapes overseas.

    The record is bad and Stock Aitken Cowell Robson and Jerome should feel bad, but I don’t hear (or recall) much cause for worry that show or song were a “noxious mixture of sentimentality, romance, nostalgia… and patriotism”, or the revenant voice of the reactionary silent majority. OK I’ll spot you sentimentality, but the actual real sound of noxious patriotism is surely not this: which is a 60s pop classic sung karaoke-style by two actors! With a cynically piss-poor arrangement. Spivs are not patriots (even if some self-declared patriots are spivs).

    (This next is a bit off point, since as people have pointed out there were no hot wars at the time — there were peace-keeping forces in Yugoslavia, and of course troops stationed in Northern Ireland — but the kinds of people who might actually have strong sentimental reasons to buy such records, families of soldiers overseas, in other words, are by no means necessarily a lock for jingo politics, which tend to be much more brashly vicarious: the busiest flag-wavers are generally sending other families’ children off to face the cannons’ roar… But I actually suspect this social group and this phenom don’t have much to do with this record: this isn’t a forces wives charity release.)

    Soldier Soldier was a popular show of several years’ standing, and this record recapped a popular — climactic? — episode, starring two likeably handsome and cheeky young fellers: reasons enough many people bought it, surely, recalling that they’d enjoyed the episode. And reason enough that it’s not been taken to the nation’s heart, also, because I suspect it’s pretty shoddy memorabilia for said episode. If the show was at all obnoxious in this vein, I’d probably remember it much better: I think it was cautiously clichéd at best and worst, and not very clearly pro- or anti-etablishment.

    (Tho I’d actually quite like to see comparative figures — of the ordinary viewing audience of a well liked but not startling mid-week drama serial, compared to how many sales make up a number one in any given week — before I signed off on this as the main impetus for its sales. And the GBP did come back for more, which maybe undermines the argument I’m making a little.)

  49. 49
    enitharmon on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Tom @ 3 – and you’ve got to do the song a couple more times too I think. It is a good song, one definition of which is one that can survive very different interpretations, but it doesn’t survive this one.

    I preferred Robson Green as the porter in early Casualty. He should have stayed there.

  50. 50
    Tom on 25 Jun 2013 #

    “The 1994 UK viewing figures had climbed to 16.1 million – an extraordinary 65% of the viewing share” – J Flynn’s website.

    If true this really is whopping, even for pre-Internet. I suspect this was a special or Xmas episode? But anyhow it was a success.

    Number one sales at this point? Not sure – THIS sold a bit over a million I think, across its 7 weeks and a few declining ones after. It’s definitely selling on the basis of TV – ‘shoddy memorabilia’ will become Cowell’s stock in trade, as I suggest in the review.

    BUT the public are not rubes, or at least not always, and are happy to reject TV stars making singles before and after, so I doubt the particular subject matter (and VE Day anniversary, and choice of songs) hurt this one. And I DO think there was a bit of patriotic play going on in the waning Major years (and not just Cool Britannia) – this is the year Portillo did his “S! A! S!” routine at the Tory conference, isn’t it?

  51. 51

    I suppose what I’m arguing is that Soldier Soldier itself — judging a little from memory and a little from the wikipedia entry — was really quite a long way from undiluted Andy McNab in tone: it was (intended to be) about the changing role of the army in a post-Cold War world, and the psychological effect of being restructured away from exciting swordplay towards respectful ploughshare maintenance.

    (Except I think a lot of it was actually about birds and beer and other laddish shenanigans… )

  52. 52
    Tom on 25 Jun 2013 #

    The Jerome website has sales figure data week by week: 310k first week, 460k second, 320k third. Blimey.

    Also: “Simon Cowell, the person who signed the lads to record with RCA, dismisses the hostility that Robson & Jerome have received from elements of the music media. “I would say the criticism they have received for their music is based on ignorance and musical snobbery. Their knowledge of music is fantastic and they came up with some great choices of tracks. I would also say that they have surprised themselves on this as to how well they can sing!””

    Praising song choice and broadsides at the snobs, in ’95. A template forms!

  53. 53

    Track listing (to help self-assign yr ignorance/snobbery index):

    “Unchained Melody” (Alex North, Hy Zaret)
    “Daydream Believer” (John Stewart)
    “I Believe” (Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl, Al Stillman)
    “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” (Bob Crewe, Bob Gaudio)
    “Up on the Roof” (Gerry Goffin, Carole King)
    “I’ll Come Running Back to You” (Sam Cooke)
    “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover” (Walter Kent, Nat Burton)
    “Amazing Grace” (John Newton, William Walker)
    “If I Can Dream” (Walter Earl Brown)
    “This Boy” (John Lennon, Paul McCartney)
    “Love You Forever”
    “Little Latin Lupe Lu” (Bill Medley)
    “Danny Boy” (Frederic Weatherly, Traditional)

    Truly their knowledge of music is fantastic.

  54. 54

    Except wtf is “Love You Forever”? *IGNORANCE KLAXON*

  55. 55
    mapman132 on 25 Jun 2013 #

    #28: Les Baxter hit #1 with it on the US sales chart (pre-Hot 100) in 1955. Pretty much everything that was said about Jimmy Young’s version could apply it as well.

    #38 & #40: Surprisingly few. If we ignore The Twist since it was actually the same recording, only 9 songs have topped the Hot 100 in two different versions. The Locomotion was one (Eva and Grand Funk, but Kylie only reached #3). The most recent in both original version (1975) and remake (2001 – half a bunny here?) is Lady Marmalade. Here’s the full list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_artists_who_debuted_at_number-one_on_the_Hot_100_%28U.S.%29#Number-one_songs_by_different_artists

  56. 56
    wichitalineman on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Re 48: Granted the “sound” doesn’t come from that noxious mixture, but the physical fact of the record does. Birds and beer and laddish shenanigans, and soldiers! I have a pretty low tolerance for things that make war or war games seem chirpy (spoofs like Dad’s Army and MASH aside).

    Yugoslavia almost certainly had nought to do with the success of this single – the massacre in the UN “safe area” of Tuzla was in May ’95, which emboldened the Serbs to walk into Srebrenica shortly afterwards and kill 8,000 Muslim men and boys. Oddly we were talking about this this morning – blue berets have had a low profile since, which has possibly led to regular US and UK (and occasionally French) military intervention without UN involvement.

    Re 55 Nah! Les Baxter’s version is a lovely, evocative thing, with a structure similar to Doris Day’s Secret Love, upping tempo gently to suggest passage across wide open spaces. Jimmy Young sings “speed your larb to me” – awful.

  57. 57
    mapman132 on 25 Jun 2013 #

    #56: Guess I should have actually listened to Jimmy Young before posting that comment! Les Baxter’s version is better. Righteous Brothers still have the best version though.

  58. 58

    I think this was the episode that spawned the hit: “Disaster is successfully averted when Garvey, Tucker and Farrell follow Voce on his stag night and rescue him from serious embarrassment at the hands of an exotic dancer”

    Which fits my slightly over-sneery and dismissive description quite well — and maybe backs wichita’s position, about chirpiness. Other episodes are intended as more serious in tone, as far as you can tell from the summaries: “New recruit Fusilier Andrew Butcher is causing trouble – his enthusiasm gets the better of him and his gun goes off by accident in a live fire exercise, shooting another soldier and leading to a major inquiry.”

    I didn’t really watch enough to take anything away either way, in terms of what the show was aiming for or achieving: I still basically think that (a) the idea of serial drama based in a peacetime army — even if it’s light in tone — is not intrinsically a bad thing, in fact quite the opposite, and (b) the fact that we’re so shy of representing it is simultaneously a good sign (because we’re not — even today — enormously in hock to a fetishisation of all things military) and a bad thing (because it’s something wide open and exploitable, which we — the “writerly classes” — have a pretty bad sense for).

    First paragraph after the intro of the Andy McNab wikipedia entry: “McNab was born on 28 December 1959. Found abandoned on the steps of Guy’s Hospital in Southwark in a Harrods shopping bag, he was brought up in Peckham, with his adoptive family. He did not do well in school, dropped out and worked at various odd jobs, usually for friends and relatives, and was involved in petty criminality, finally being arrested for burglary in 1976. Partly inspired by his brother’s time in the army, he wanted to join the British Army He failed the entry test for training as an army pilot, but enlisted with the Royal Green Jackets at the age of 16.” This is a long way from Soldier Soldier, and from Robson and Jerome, I think — potentially much more alluring, to various people in various ways, and potentially much more toxic also.

    (I haven’t read any of McNab’s books: the second was big in 1995, though, and advertised everywhere on the tube and such.)

  59. 59
    lonepilgrim on 25 Jun 2013 #

    I can barely summon up the energy to comment on this – I didn’t watch Soldier Soldier and wasn’t paying much attention to the charts at the time. I vaguely remember hearing it and being underwhelmed. In theory I quite like the idea that the UK chart can reflect the public succumbing to broad sentiment like this but in practice when gems like Common People miss out I become less forgiving. I recently picked up a copy of the Brits 96 Nominees CD which features all of the Number 2 hits while this was at number 1 and it’s a wonderful selection of music. (Thanks to Alan for pointing me towards it – here: http://rateyourmusic.com/release/comp/various_artists_f2/the_96_brit_awards_f1/
    I even like the U2 song – helped by the fact it sounds less U2-ish than usual.

  60. 60
    Andrew Farrell on 25 Jun 2013 #

    To pick a military metaphor, one of the things that I love about Common People is that it keeps its powder dry for so long, that the moment Billy described (Tuesdays Thursdays and Saturdays the best second in music) is nearly two minutes into a four minute track*.

    It’s an impressive display of confidence, of a band that had been around for over a decade, had met the spotlight halfway, and had figured out how ‘it’/they worked, but would be happy with heading back to obscurity if they got it wrong. And a confidence based on this knowledge that there wasn’t anyone within miles of them in any direction, that they’d risen to the attention of their natural audience of interested indiests, and they quite fancied a grab for pop-pickers, rather than Oasis’s security that there was a market for Proper Songs Played Properly.

    Simon Cowell’s been involved in a lot of music that I like, but I don’t think any of it, or very much that’ll trouble us after (as always prepared to be wrong!) shows that specific confidence of holding the finger over the booster button until halfway through a hit (let alone your signature and summarising track).

    *Okay okay six minutes for the ‘proper’ version but the fans weren’t buying the real it.

  61. 61
    Andrew Farrell on 25 Jun 2013 #

    #58: not all things military – just the soldiers.

  62. 62
    thefatgit on 25 Jun 2013 #

    I think there’s 2 strings of outsider’s perspective at work here. There’s the fetishistic aspect of military life a la Bravo Two Zero, and then there’s the banal side of military life, which I recall Soldier Soldier covered very well. I don’t see it as a perceptible conflict although I imagine serving soldiers could see it that way. We’ve had many a documentary, fly-on-the-wall style, like Warship for instance, which offers genuine insight into what it’s like to serve for Queen and Country. And that feeds into the “our boys” public admiration for those who choose to serve.

    Something else that strikes me about this particular version of “Unchained Melody” is that it doesn’t need a big, bells-and-whistles production. Aesthetes will pick this apart because it is cheap and shoddy, but the very people Cowell aimed this at care nothing for production values. The people who bought this,(forgive the generalisation) tend to buy one single a year, care nothing for Pulp or Britpop or House or Grunge. I think sometimes, we need to be reminded of that. For all its column inches and ubiquity within the media, pop is still a minority pursuit. I hate this record, but admire it in a perverse way, because it is anti-every reason I love music for. This is the king of cash-ins. The devil stands before us, hiding behind a pair of gormless actors who can just about carry a tune.

  63. 63
    Tom on 25 Jun 2013 #

    #60 Pulp did this delayed-release thing a LOT, I think – it was one of the ways Jarvis wrote songs, so to an extent it’s not especially bold, it’s how they did things – grab them with a great opening line, let things simmer, BOOM. They weren’t usually brilliant at writing choruses – in fact an awful lot of times their songs just kind of tail off where the chorus should be (“Mile End” and “Ansaphone”, two of my favourite tracks by them, are awful for this but it doesn’t matter) so they needed to write amazing payoffs instead. (Classic example – “This Is Hardcore”, paced like a striptease you can’t look away from) Even “Babies”, which has one of their most memorable choruses, isn’t really about the chorus, it’s about “I only went with her cos she looks like you MYGOD”

    “Common People” still seems a very odd, wonkily shaped record to get to #2, which is kind of what you were saying, but I don’t feel it’s particularly bold, it’s just Pulp being Pulp but this time with unexpected consequences.

  64. 64
    wichitalineman on 25 Jun 2013 #

    Re 63: I’m not sure, Tom. You’re right that Common People has a typically skewiff, Pulp structure but I think it has one more peak – the organ stab sequence, then the extra leap for “sing along with the common people” – than any of their other songs. It’s like the extra, extra key change on Hall & Oates’ She’s Gone, or the super, super low verse on Johnny Cash’s I Walk The Line. It’s that “surely they can’t take it one stage further…. ooh, they just did!” trick which might be theoretically easy but, if you can get it to work, makes for an extraordinary record.

  65. 65
    Ed on 26 Jun 2013 #

    Soldier Soldier was surely the kind of gentle look at army life that was possible only in those golden years – is it only my age that makes me think this? – between the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11.

    Actually, grim realism probably set in a bit earlier, with Warriors in 1999. It’s about the UN Protection Force in Bosnia, which went in in 1993, I think. Question: did Soldier Soldier ever get to Bosnia?

    After that, the stand-out military drama was the gut-wrenchingly bleak Occupation, from 2009. Hard to imagine Robson and Jerome in Helmand province or Basra.

    On a lighter note, it’s fantastic to realise that Jerome is in Game of Thrones. Makes Bronn the second character to have had a UK number one, alongside Ilyn Payne, although with him it was an album, not a single. Any others?

  66. 66
    flahr on 26 Jun 2013 #

    #65 We’ll be meeting a certain bunnied cheese enthusiast very soon who agrees with you…

  67. 67
    swanstep on 26 Jun 2013 #

    @65, Ed. Not sure whether this counts but Will Champion, Coldplay’s drummer, played percussion in the ‘Rains of Castamere’ rendition that led into the big wedding massacre.

    Anyhow, Bronn rocketh even if this version of ‘Unchained Melody’ doth not.

  68. 68
    23 Daves on 26 Jun 2013 #

    I really can’t think of much to say about this, but then it never was released with the idea that people would be discussing its content in nearly twenty years time. The furore around it seems more memorable than the product, and the fact that it also seemed horrendously out-of-time, like some middle-of-the-road mid-seventies novelty record which had somehow crashed into the nineties chart. Radio One had shifted its style enormously in this time, and I can distinctly remember waking up in the morning to Chris Evans bellowing loudly about how awful the number one was, and how more people needed to buy “Common People” to remedy this – his campaign came to nothing, obviously, even though I distinctly remember listeners phoning up to agree with him. It wasn’t for “us”, the young people, it was clearly being bought by our dopey distant relatives.

    The best thing about the above was that it was truly avoidable as a record as a result. It may have been number one and sold by the bucketload, but it’s one of those number ones which would never have been played in the pubs I drank in or the parties I went to – it was irritating only for blocking Pulp’s one bite at the top spot, and for reminding me (and especially Cowell) that most people have tin ears and will buy any old forgettable rubbish if you market it properly.

  69. 69
    Kinitawowi on 26 Jun 2013 #

    This was about the first time I became aware of the notion of “mum music”. No intention of being down with the kids here, this was all about selling to the olds; if it had come out before Mother’s Day it would probably have sold two million. Erk.

    Britain was on a bit of a nostalgia trip all around at this point (as a few people have mentioned); I seem to recall Goodnight Sweetheart doing fairly well for itself about now.

    Common People has been discussed to death (but damn, what a song! That’s what we were listening to on the bus on every school trip!), but HMTMKMKM was U2’s best song for a long time. Sadly, nine years and a few bunnies later they’d completely lost sight of the difference between “effortless” and “lazy”.

  70. 70

    Soldier Soldier did indeed go to Bosnia, and Northern Ireland also: if the Wikipedia entry is correct it was specifically conceived as a post-Cold War drama — one of the story-threads/threats was that the army would now be downsized and the regiment portrayed would vanish when combined with another. As noted above, the original point of it seems to have been a drama about the army in an age of post-imperial ploughshares (though this isn’t entirely how it worked out, given actual evolving history and the pressures of weekly ratings).

    Given its actual topic, there’s something pretty comical about “Common People” being held up as an Important Statement of We the Elect and Select, but that’s the kind of foolishness you get when a station dedicated to popular music turns itself into a vehicle for a half-grasped notion of the pop music as the vanguard (or indeed of “youth” as the vanguard). Matthew Bannister: so much to answer for.

    (Don’t imagine such a thing is possible but I’d love to see a breakdown of the relative ages of the owners of these two records: see if one does indeed skew older than the other, or — as I slightly suspect — whether they’re actually much of a muchness.)

  71. 71
    Auntie Beryl on 26 Jun 2013 #

    It’s only one sample, but my recollection of the purchasers of the two singles is that Pulp was mainly bought by 13-18 year olds and R&J skewed far, far older – the parents of the above in general.

    This was a sole indie shop in the Home Counties though, so nothing like definitive or representative – 18 year olds tended to leave town for higher education or to find affordable housing elsewhere, resulting in a huge demographic hole in the population between the ages of 18 and the early 30s, when some could afford to return.

  72. 72
    enitharmon on 26 Jun 2013 #

    Auntie Beryl @ 71 – I’d like to point out that at the time this was at number 1 I was the parent of a 15-year-old and I wouldn’t have touched this record with the proverbial bargepole. I liked (and still love) Common People though and that was the currency of the people of my age around me at the time.

  73. 73
    Tom on 26 Jun 2013 #

    I don’t know about much of a muchness but at 1.4 million sales vs (I’d guess) 250k-300k, it’s surely a good statistical bet that in any demographic you care to mention, Robson And Jerome sold more than Pulp.

  74. 74

    Of course records bought as presents for others (such as St Winifreds “Grandma We Love You”) have a complicated consumer profile: do you file them under the grandparents or the grandchildren? If this was being bought as a Mothers’ Day present — I know it actually wasn’t but if — then would it be an indication of mum’s actual tastes or just her children’s confused assumptions about same?

    (My mum liked Meat Loaf, as I’ve pointed out before. And my grandma liked Shostakovich and Schubert lieder, but she was still pleased when we bought her “Grandma We Love You”, though I seriously doubt she ever played it after the first time.)

  75. 75
    Rory on 26 Jun 2013 #

    #48 Re “it’s actually a bit strange that we don’t have a fvckton *MORE* TV drama based in this general area” – I wonder if police dramas serve as a surrogate, both here and in the US (fellow martial nation).

    In all this time of studying the list of 1990s UK number ones, I’d assumed that Robson & Jerome were some R&B duo who never made it big outside the UK.

    Yep, I’d take six weeks of HMTMKMKM at number one (as it was in Oz) over this any day.

  76. 76
    enitharmon on 26 Jun 2013 #

    I don’t think it’s the mass of the people that form a “martial nation”. I think it’s the elite that controls the state and creates the notion of the “nation”. The armed forces are there to maintain there to serve the elite, not the nation, and until they are needed to suppress insurrection at home they have to be kept exercised elsewhere.

  77. 77
    Nanaya on 27 Jun 2013 #

    Re: #60/63/64 – obligatory reference to the importance of the ‘Common People’ video in both the song’s success and the brand of Pulp.

  78. 78
    Izzy on 27 Jun 2013 #

    The idea that Britain is a martial nation is ridiculous, when there are plenty of places where the army wields actual political power, not to mention North Korea. Even when a huge proportion of men were experiencing or had experienced military service (i.e. WWII), the country wouldn’t’ve stood for mass fighting and dying – hence D-Day being postponed so long that it would actually work, whereas the Soviets would’ve thrown bodies at the beaches ’til their remaining armies could walk ashore.

    In reality the military barely features in civilian life here bar the odd parade, Northern Ireland being the sad exception.

  79. 79

    Hi Izzy: no, you’re right, we don’t at all have a militarised society, socially or culturally, and our politics is not in any sense dominated by the military. But — just to pick this record’s arrival as a start-point — there hasn’t been a year since 1995 that we haven’t been fighting some sort of a war, large or small. Even setting Northern Ireland on one side as a different, historically complex case that our generations inherited — and I’m not at all sure we should set it on one side — we have taken part in seven wars of choice since 1995: Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq twice, Sierra Leone, and this year Mali. We have a significant armed forces in global terms, expensive, well maintained, and — and this is my point — we are not at all shy of using it. So: martial, as I meant it. Martial but not in any way militarised, especially culturally.

    And again, I was being a bit cheekily provocative saying “we are” — because of course plenty of people have argued or agititated against these wars, and some have tried to vote out those who started them; and some certainly think “not in my name” of many of the nation’s actions and characteristics. Nevertheless “we” as a democratic polity — rather than as individuals — have not in fact voted to end any of these wars.

    It’s the semi-hiddenness of much of this that interests me, actually — and a degree of hiddenness was a feature of British cultural life even in the heyday of Empire. When Kipling started writing about ordinary British life in India, it came as a shock to readers in London, and even a scandal.

  80. 80
    Izzy on 27 Jun 2013 #

    That last point is excellent. Was reflecting that Britain (and France) do seem particularly good at that sort of hypocrisy – though I was thinking more in terms of money, in tolerating tax havens, non-domiciles, nepotism. Maybe it’s universal. Maybe in other countries they call it corruption.

  81. 81
    Patrick Mexico on 27 Jun 2013 #

    I’m genuinely too scared to listen to this.

    But I started reading Popular and listening to the entire (!) corresponding top 40s from 1988, is it scarier than Heartbeat by Don Johnson?

  82. 82
    mapman132 on 27 Jun 2013 #

    #81: Can’t believe I’m commenting on this thread yet again, but I’ve always believed that actor cash-in records were the absolute bottom feeders of the 80s-90s pop landscape, below even boy bands, hair bands, novelty songs, and Vanilla Ice. In the US at least, not only was there Don Johnson, but top 10 “hits” by Eddie Murphy, Bruce Willis, Jack Wagner, and probably a bunch of others I’ve blocked from memory. Fortunately these NEVER get played on the radio anymore, not even during retro/nostalgia shows that will play almost anything else from the period in question.

  83. 83
    punctum on 27 Jun 2013 #

    *plays Square Rooms by Al Corley card*

  84. 84
    Cumbrian on 27 Jun 2013 #

    #83: I have just looked that up on Wikipedia. The single sleeve appears to be where Ben Stiller ripped off Blue Steel/Le Tigre/Magnum from for Zoolander.

    There is also Stefan Dennis’ “Don’t It Make You Feel Good” in the period after Kylie and Jason had made successful records and the industry thought that they could just throw any old actor from Neighbours at us.

  85. 85
    Mark G on 27 Jun 2013 #

    .. and they were right, briefly…

  86. 86
    Patrick Mexico on 27 Jun 2013 #

    The OP mentions how strange it would be for soldiers to be posted to New Zealand, but talking of “Coolest Man On The Planet For Two Weeks In the Mid-Eighties” Don Johnson, there was a Miami Vice episode where James Brown plays an alien. Just let me repeat that again: James Brown plays an alien.

    On IMDB, though its users still seem to celebrate MV as a whole as a “groundbreaking classic of its era”, that episode gets an even bigger panning than Robson and Jerome. Never even consciously watched Soldier Soldier. Am I missing anything?

  87. 87
    pootle on 27 Jun 2013 #

    Wasn’t this oddly linked to VE Day anniversaries due to a retro video?

    I had ‘Common People’ to thank for buggering up my first two terms at university, due to over-identifying with working-class chippiness. But then I discovered the relatively class-free computer geeks running the film society and all was well.

  88. 88
    Another Pete on 27 Jun 2013 #

    #87 Yes but that was more to do with the White Cliffs of Dover cover than Unchained Melody.

  89. 89
    Auntie Beryl yet unlogged on 27 Jun 2013 #

    #81 Heartbeat by Don Johnson was never a top forty hit.

    I shouldn’t know this stuff. Off for a life down.

  90. 90
    Patrick Mexico on 27 Jun 2013 #

    #89 I didn’t know he had a full album. I’m getting a bit terrified.

    Here’s a question: what’s the best pop song that consciously or unconsciously sounds like a TV theme tune? The jaunty, plinky-plonky Big Breakfast theme is truly one for all seasons, as it’s been used to great effect on The Crystals’ Then He Kissed Me, Bruce Springsteen’s Racing In the Street and give or take a key change, Elastica’s Connection – though perhaps that owed more to the theme from Are You Being Served and Justine’s affected, estuarine accent. There’s a similar accent in a right dubious hairy anchovy of a hit single around right now which could well be the next bunny. Something about basketball springs to mind, and we’re not talking Space Jam..

  91. 91
    Rory on 28 Jun 2013 #

    #90 Does ‘Uprising’ by Muse count as pop? The best Doctor Who theme variant since ‘Doctorin’ the Tardis’.

  92. 92
    punctum on 28 Jun 2013 #

    What you do mean, does it count as pop? What is this, the Khmer Rouge or the Camden Town Good Music Society? Of COURSE it’s pop. Tornados, the Sweet, David Cassidy, Mud and Georgist polemic – it’s all there.

  93. 93
    anto on 28 Jun 2013 #

    #90: The beginning of RockFerry by Duffy reminds me of the Crossroads theme.

  94. 94
    Rory on 28 Jun 2013 #

    #92 I meant “Patrick Mexico, according to your personal definition of pop, does this count?”. Because it does for me, but not I imagine for everyone.

  95. 95
    Mark G on 28 Jun 2013 #

    Cornflake Girl Tori Amos reminded me of the theme tune to Hywell Bennett’s “Shelley”, but nobody I ever mention this to even remembers the tv show..

  96. 96
    Rory on 29 Jun 2013 #

    #95 Hey, I remember that show! And I remember liking it. But I can’t remember anything about it, apart from thinking at the time that “Hywell” was a pretty nifty name.

  97. 97

    I remember it, too: my dad really liked it.

  98. 98
    AMZ1981 on 29 Jun 2013 #

    One point nobody seems to have made yet (if they have I apologise) is that this was not only the biggest selling single of 1995 but the second biggest selling of the entire nineties; if not for the tragic events of August 31 1997 and the hysteria that followed it would be the biggest seller.

    Also nobody seems to have mentioned the other record that was held at number two by Robson & Jerome; Perez Prado’s Guigilione which was selling on the back of of a Guinness advert – if nothing else it would have looked gloriously out of place on this list wedged between Living Joy and Pulp (with Scatman John at number two).

    One record that everybody thought would get to number one during this period that didn’t was Michael Jackson’s comeback single Scream in duet with his sister; it entered at 3 during Robson and Jerome’s fourth week on top and Pulp’s second at number 2.

  99. 99
    Patrick Mexico on 29 Jun 2013 #

    I stumbled upon the Stylistics’ Rockin’ Roll Baby, which sounds a tiny bit like the Grandstand theme tune, but in the same vein, I’m a much bigger fan of the Motors’ Forget About You. It’s like a not-very-good Britpop song which everyone secretly loves!

  100. 100
    Lazarus on 29 Jun 2013 #

    I may have missed something in the previous 99 posts, in which case apologies to the poster concerned, but I don’t think anyone’s mentioned the video yet – not the relevant clip from the series, but almost as cheap – basically scenes from ‘Brief Encounter’ with R & J superimposed, in hats and raincoats. Around the same time we had Kylie recreating the opening scene from ‘Barbarella’ with ‘Put Yourself in my Place’ – what other pop promos have leaned so heavily on the movie world for inspiration?

  101. 101
    Andrew Farrell on 30 Jun 2013 #

    #100 – Well, there’s a healthy history of cross promotion – Guns ‘n’ Roses’ You Could be Mine featuring the best bits of Terminator 2, Madonna’s Beautiful Stranger, and a bunnyable 97 hit from one William Smith.

    The one that really stands out though is Metallica’s One, which was based around Johnny Got His Gun, a 1971 movie about a World War One quadruple amputee – they based the song around the story of the movie, and rather than faff around with licensing the film for the video, they just bought the rights outright.

  102. 102
    swanstep on 30 Jun 2013 #

    what other pop promos have leaned so heavily on the movie world for inspiration?
    Lots and lots of them! Blur did at least two, riffing on Clockwork Orange for The Universal’s vid, and doing a shot-for-shot reconstruction of (a condensation of) Last Year at Marienbad for To The End (I reverse engineered that vid with Marienbad footage here); Paula Abdul’s Rush Rush vid, restaged a good chunk of Rebel Without A Cause; Smashing Pumpkins’s Tonight Tonight vid riffed on Melies’s A Trip To the Moon, Madonna’s Express Yourself aped bits of Metroplis; Berlin’s No More Words did Bonnie and Clyde; Stacey’s Mom did Fast Times at Ridgemount High; Beastie Boys’s Body Movin’ did Danger Diabolik; Musess Time is Running Out did Strangelove; lots of vids have kind of done Mad Max/Road Warrior/Death Race 2000/Two Lane Flattop/Vanishing Point… Oh and Sixpence None The Richer’s vid for Kiss Me did Jules et Jim.

  103. 103
    Mark M on 30 Jun 2013 #

    Re 100/1/2: Also Emili Sandé’s Clown, an homage to Carl Dreyer’s The Passion Of Joan Of Arc, no less.

  104. 104
    Steve Mannion on 30 Jun 2013 #

    The movie homage was also rife in mid 90s rap videos e.g. 2Pac & Dr Dre ‘California Love’ (Mad Max), Nas ‘Street Dreams’ (Casino), Busta Rhymes ‘Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See’ (Coming To America) and I recall a video on Yo! MTV Raps homaging THX-1138 including the sunset scene as the very last shot but can’t remember who this was by (maybe Gravediggaz). D12’s ‘Fight Music’ (The Warriors) is another one from a few years later.

  105. 105
    Lazarus on 30 Jun 2013 #

    Queen’s ‘Radio Ga Ga’ also borrowed from Metropolis I seem to remember.

  106. 106
    mintness on 3 Jul 2013 #

    This song, and hence (among others) this version of this song, came up on this week’s edition of the wonderful Only Connect on BBC FOUR. Teams were asked to identify the fourth link in the sequence, based on the following clues:

    1: Umbrella
    2: Uptown Girl
    3: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

    Their guesses: “4: We Are The World” and (and I quote) “4: Bob the Bui- Can You Build It? Bob The Builder”.

  107. 107
    Mark G on 3 Jul 2013 #

    And? We’re on tenderhooks here ..

  108. 108
    Billy Hicks on 3 Jul 2013 #

    Just spent a couple of minutes looking in confusion, but I think I’ve got it :) Think of bunnies, in particular those from 2001 onwards!

  109. 109
    Mark G on 3 Jul 2013 #

    Well, obv the R&J song (and not the R&JStone song) was the number 4, but why? oh y?

  110. 110
    Erithian on 3 Jul 2013 #

    The logic was that “Umbrella” (picked at random) had been number one in one version, “Uptown Girl” in two, DTKIC in three and “Unchained Melody” in four.

  111. 111
    Mark G on 3 Jul 2013 #

    O Blimey! The things you have to know off-the-top-of-your-head, just to get close to Victoria Coren!

  112. 112
    Cumbrian on 3 Jul 2013 #

    Nothing has got to the top in 5 different versions right? Everyhit says not, I am guessing they are right?

  113. 113
    Mark G on 3 Jul 2013 #

    I believe.

  114. 114
    Scott M on 7 Jul 2013 #

    I’ve just gone through all of the (very interesting!) comments and I don’t think I saw anyone mention this. Basically, it’s not exactly clear just how much of what you hear on this track (or probably even the rest of the Green & Flynn oeuvre) is actually them. Not that that stops it from being anything other than not very good.

  115. 115
    Patrick Mexico on 8 Jul 2013 #

    If it wasn’t for the VE Day anniversary celebrations the patriotic pound wouldn’t have been enough to get them to number one. There’s not much I can say about this other than it’s awful karaoke tat and has all the bad hallmarks of everything Cowell puts his hand to. 2 is spot on. I agree with Tom’s marks more than any year I’ve been following this since 1988, despite childhood mark inflation.

    Massive Pulp fan but I do feel like playing devil’s advocate and as a sequel to my “15 more deserving number 1s than Love is All Around” list, “seven top 40 singles released during the run more deserving than this one or Common People” but given one of them is the Farm’s “All Together Now” being adapted/soiled as an Everton FA Cup final song, I think that’s virtually impossible. I set it as a mission to other Popular users, should you choose to accept it…

  116. 116
    Brendan F on 8 Jul 2013 #

    More deserving than this you could take your pick but whether they’d actually be any good either is another question

  117. 117
    Chelovek na lune on 8 Jul 2013 #

    #115 Having just looked through the list of new entries (& re-entries) for those seven weeks, there is a lot that I don’t know, and perhaps never knew, and a lot that I did once hear but have forgotten….so naturally this selection is both partial and subjective

    Of those that stood out to my mind and ears (and excluding remixes/rereleases of big hits from years past: sorry Joy Division & Blondie):

    1. Sparks – When Do I Get To Sing `My way’ (re-release, but barely a hit the year before, either: Surely “Common People”‘s dancing partner for the summer, for numerous reasons of both tone and experience. Yeah, that would have made a fine number 1. It would have been great to discuss Sparks here, too, not least making such a comeback.)

    2. McAlmont & Butler – Yes (yes.)

    3. Mike & The Mechanics – Beggar On A Beach Of Gold (A fine song, polished in composition and structure, both musically and lyrically)

    4. Billie Ray Martin – Your Loving Arms (strictly speaking a remix of a previous minor hit: and, while appealing enough, not quite as deep and as haunting as her best in Electribe 101, when the powerful Germanic-torch singer effect over geeky keyboardism with, or without, Frankie Knuckles doing his production stuff, could be utterly sublime)

    Runners Up: Edwyn Collins – A Girl Like You, Black Grape – Reverend Black Grape

  118. 118
    Mark G on 8 Jul 2013 #

    1. Yeah, but Russell’s voice did not come over on this one.

    2. Yes.

    3. Hmm, don’t recall it, but probably would if I looked for it.

    4. This was much more commercial than the E101 which had that over-worthiness attached to it for me.

    Edwin had a massive worlwide hit thanks to the rerelease off being the lead track on an e.p.

  119. 119
    Patrick Mexico on 9 Jul 2013 #

    Re 117 – Many thanks for stepping up to the plate. I’d have to agree with nearly all of them.

    Just watch out for Duran Duran’s take on White Lines (Don’t Do It). This is what it sounds like, when David Cameron goes hip-hop.

  120. 120
    ciaran on 17 Jul 2013 #

    Not much to add to this but I hated it back in 95.A 2 would have been my mark back then.I dont have the same hatred towards it now largely because another version of UM with the same fingerprints all over it makes it look a lot better. Also its up there with the righteous brothers themselves compared with the following years efforts like the Woolpackers and John Alford.


  121. 121
    Elmtree on 6 Aug 2013 #

    While the vocals are terrible, I sort of like the idea of the arrangement here-locking the singers onto a piano figure does give it an urgency that makes it feel determined. They’re not luxuriating in melancholy, but striding forward. It does sound cheap though.

    But anyway, how bad are those vocals? Awful mid-Atlantic accents to fit some soul into this that don’t fit the stalwartly British Brief Encounter video, and sudden jumps into first Irish-sounding, then R&B-ish phrasing (on the ‘yeah’s) that make it feel like some desperate editor patched the vocals together from about thirty different takes. Should have been underplayed if this had any chance of working. (Relatedly, this is a song I’d love to see Neil Tennant cover.) This is the classic Cowell mega-belter formula already perfectly assembled, complete with the massive bells at the climax, but his appointed vocalists aren’t suited to what he wants them to do. No wonder he started running talent contests.

  122. 122
    Guillermina on 3 Feb 2014 #

    3single dot com is a great site. It has live chat so you can talk to other people online. Good luck.

  123. 123
    Mark M on 10 Jun 2014 #

    Re 100 etc: The new Pixie Lott video owes its look (right down to the typography, which is a giveaway) to early colour Godard, most specifically Le Mepris/Contempt.

  124. 124
    Elmtree on 3 Sep 2014 #

    New thought: Simon Cowell’s genius move here is to create a record that looks like a charity record but isn’t. Two actors known for a drama about soldiers release a song about being away (at the front?) missing your love and one actual song from the war. It looks like a record you’re Officially Meant to Buy to Support the Royal British Legion. But it isn’t.

  125. 125
    weej on 21 Dec 2015 #

    Meanwhile at #2*

    *Well, on the b-side of the #2 single, but retconned as a double-A-side for the’Hits’ compilation, so it sort of counts. And I’ve just resumed the blog after over a year off with new baby and job stress and need a bit of motivation to continue, so sorry for the minor spamming and Merry Christmas, Popular people.

  126. 126
    Tommy Mack on 21 Dec 2015 #

    Great piece of writing Weej and a song about which I’d all but forgotten. Definitely going to plough through that list of live versions some time.

    Merry Christmas all!

  127. 127
    Marshy on 20 Mar 2019 #

    A fun fact is that Jerome Flynn’s little brother is Johnny Flynn, known for acting but also for his modestly popular folksy music (including the theme tune of TV series Detectorists).

  128. 128
    Gareth Parker on 31 May 2021 #

    2/10, then a point docked off for keeping Common People at #2. Er, 1/10 then.

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