Popular

14
Jul 14

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

Popular38 comments • 2,077 views

#802, 26th September 1998

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

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

4
Jul 14

ROBBIE WILLIAMS – “Millennium”

Popular49 comments • 3,008 views

#801, 19th September 1998

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

29
Jun 14

ALL SAINTS – “Bootie Call”

Popular20 comments • 1,587 views

#800, 12th September 1998

bootie All Saints’ pitch to be the classier girl group option rested on several things: their fashion sense, their songwriting, their metropolitan sophistication. But also their comfort with R&B – British cool, not for the first time, was being underwritten by familiarity with the music of black America. So “Bootie Call” is All Saints’ tilt at a straightforward, state-of-the-art, late 90s R&B single. It almost works.

24
Jun 14

THE MANIC STREET PREACHERS – “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next”

Popular119 comments • 4,581 views

#799, 5th September 1998

tolerate “You can interpret the lyrics,” huffed a Nazi goon caught nicking this song for the BNP’s website, “any way you want.” The specific double meaning of “if I can shoot rabbits, then I can shoot fascists” eludes me, but it’s true enough that the Manic Street Preachers’ lyricists had a taste for the oblique. Simple polemic was rarely their style: on their early records they favoured harsh, dense word-blocks, crushed by the transition to song into something barely singable, their uneasy imagery delivered by James Dean Bradfield as a compressed bark. But for all their rough treatment, the words mattered – for The Holy Bible the band took out double-page ads printing the record’s scorched, self-lacerating lyrics in full. They made records About Things, things number ones only occasionally break bread with: self-harm, depression, the decline of class consciousness. And here, apparently, the Spanish Civil War.

11
Jun 14

BOYZONE – “No Matter What”

FT + Popular48 comments • 2,671 views

#798, 15th August 1998

nmw “No Matter What” has an elevated position in Boyzone’s catalogue. It’s their big crossover hit, the one by songwriters of real mass-appeal pedigree – Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman – and the only one to have done well in the USA. You might see it as Boyzone asking to be taken seriously, except it fits so well with the stately, windy ballads they were already making: this isn’t a stylistic change so much as a levelling up in songwriting competence. There’s an efficiency to the hook and a solidity to the structure here which you’d expect from two men made swinishly wealthy by their ability to pull out a show-stopping ballad.

3
Jun 14

SPICE GIRLS – “Viva Forever”

Popular47 comments • 2,737 views

#797, 1st August 1998

spiceviva A single overtaken by events, “Viva Forever” found its modest theme – the embers of holiday romance – completely sidelined when it turned out to be the Final Spice Girls Single, meaning the last single by the founding quintet. Suddenly the pressure of attention warped just another enjoyable Spice ballad into a grand valedictory statement. “Viva Forever” still just about bears that weight, though “fleeting, doomed and bittersweet” wasn’t quite the emotional note the band would have picked for a send-off. And sure enough the remaining four members decided to take a second shot at mythologising the Geri Era (and the band), which we’ll get to in time, and means I can take this track at face value.

29
May 14

JAMIROQUAI – “Deeper Underground”

Popular73 comments • 3,059 views

#796, 25th July 1998

jamzilla Another early 90s press darling scores another late 90s number one – except the reaction isn’t “Wow” this time but “what kept you?”. Within a year or two of turning up, Jamiroquai had moved from The Face’s anointed to a bona fide UK best-seller. By 1996, they’d built a solid global audience and were briefly the toast of MTV for “Virtual Insanity”. They were big. But – plenty of airplay notwithstanding – their singles belied their size. That one tremendous video aside, Jamiroquai were a steady presence in pop, never a dominating one.

27
May 14

ANOTHER LEVEL – “Freak Me”

Popular43 comments • 1,845 views

#795, 18th July 1998

alevel It’s no “Boom Boom Boom”, but “Freak Me” is the frankest boyband track on Popular so far – a cover of Silk’s 1993 R&B hit, which gives Dane Bowers and company the opportunity to sound (and look) intensely earnest and moody while pitching to go down on you. (For some value of “you”). It goes as far as it can without needing a radio edit – and at the old school pre-Matthew Bannister Radio 1, “Freak Me” might still have picked up a ban. But behind the corny growling about whipped cream, this is a celebratory sex jam with consent and respect at its centre. “Let me lick you up and down, til you say stop… Let me do all the things you want me to do.”

23
May 14

BILLIE – “Because We Want To”

Popular55 comments • 3,122 views

#794, 11th July 1998

billie because Pop Between Realities, Home In Time For TOTP

I’ve talked about Dr Phil Sandifer’s TARDIS Eruditorum blog before on Tumblr, but I’ve held off mentioning it here until this post, for hopefully obvious reasons. TARDIS Eruditorum is a critical Doctor Who blog which has been running since 2011 and will end this year. Its format – which Sandifer calls psychochronography – should be familiar to Popular readers: take a cultural object with a long history, and write about it in chronological order. Naturally, writing about the thing ends up meaning writing around the thing. My brother gave me the first three volumes of the book edition of Eruditorum for Christmas, and it was the kick in the arse I needed to really get moving on Popular again.

21
May 14

Popular ’60

Popular16 comments • 633 views

The next entry is turning out to be quite a big one, so I’m pushing it back a day or two and putting up the last of our 60s polls. It’ll find its way to its proper place in the blog in time.

I give a mark out of 10 to every song on Popular. In these polls, you tick any you would have given 6 or more to. 1960 was a slim year for Number Ones – only 16. My personal high point was “Shaking All Over” (8), and my low was Lonnie’s “Dustman” (1).

Which Of The Number One Hits Of 1960 Would You Have Given 6 Or More To?

View Results

Poll closes: No Expiry

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Over to you! And discuss the year in general in the comments too.