Dec 14

WESTLIFE – “I Have A Dream”/”Seasons In The Sun”

Popular42 comments • 5,487 views

#844, 25th December 1999

westlife dream In that other great Irish exploration of the experience of death, Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, the protagonist endures an afterlife built on the principle of recursion. Having murdered a man to fund a quixotic and obscure self-published project – I can only sympathise – he finds himself subject to a string of comical and terrifying events which, the novel implies, he will repeat in minor variation for eternity.

What does this have to do with Westlife’s bizarre Christmas Number One cover of Terry Jacks’ “Seasons In The Sun”, which brings the curtain down on the 1990s, and on the 20th Century’s charts? Only that, as the band tightened their apparent grip on pop, a dark suspicion grew that we had all been stranded in a recursive process – that time had looped round to the 1970s, an era of novelty hits, holiday imports, and doe-eyed crooners. Or even the 50s, when groomed, polite and stifling boys had made the pop running quite as much as rock’n’roll had. The style has changed a little since 1952 – gospel, doo-wop and soul are in Westlife’s mix, however faintly, and light opera is no longer a pop aspiration – but the manner has not. Between the first number one and the 844th, the level of smarm is depressingly constant.

To say that is only to repeat something which became obvious very early on in the Popular project – that the set of uses people find for pop singles stays largely the same. Dancing, loving, self-definition, and souvenirs – that covers eighty percent of it, I’d say. And that’s fine – the game is in the detail of each variation. What seemed different about Westlife was that they were so desperate to smooth out and file off such detail: occasionally, more often in their videos, you’d catch onto something that fixed them in time, but their records rarely had any such grain to them.

What wasn’t clear in 1999 was how the unbearable blankness of Westlife was only one version of a question set to haunt Popular for the next decade or more: what, exactly, does Simon Cowell like about music? What does he think pop should be? In his choices of what to promote and record, Cowell – still a backstage figure at this point – gives a strong impression that he thinks rock music was, all in all, a bad idea, that the most natural and profitable form of pop is the kind of light entertainment represented by big-voiced stars and impresarios, or at the sophisticated end bandleaders and crooners. If Westlife do hark back to 50s pop, I suspect it was partly instinctive.

Cover versions are a very obvious strategy for the group, and one that paid off at once: after “Flying Without Wings” had scraped a number one, “Seasons” and “I Have A Dream” did the job at Christmas easily, and held on for several weeks. The covers chosen for this single represent how the light entertainment tradition survived into the 1970s – they are the decade at its soggiest and broadest. “I Have A Dream”, children’s choir and all, is ABBA’s worst single – from an album where they sound wrong-footed by disco, second-guessing themselves, and then breaking their unsteady flow with this relative clunker. It sounds like it was a commission – UNICEF, or Children In Need before the fact – but as far as I know it’s just Benny and Bjorn trusting, as usual, that their melodic gifts will redeem their cornier impulses. For once, they get it wrong.

It’s pretty, though, and Frida – battening the hatches of faith to keep out the winter darkness of late ABBA – is as magnificent as ever. But Westlife’s version is no abomination. The inevitable boyband ad libs find a new, more celebratory, take on the song, breaking down the slight church hall prissiness in ABBA’s verses. Though in a song where almost every note is oversung, there’s no longer anything special about the original’s one beautiful moment, the held “I believe….in angels”.

But wait a minute. “I Have A Dream” is about finding strength in faith, but specifically the strength to conquer and meet the fear of death: “When I know the time is right for me, I’ll cross the stream”. Which brings us to “Seasons In The Sun”, in which, on the eve of the Millennium, Westlife conjure their own apocalypse by bringing the death ballad back to the UK charts. If it’s a startling move on the band’s part, it’s made even weirder by the professional gusto with which the lads approach “Seasons”. If “I Want It That Way” cut up boyband song lyrics to prove that resonance in them came from texture not text, “Seasons In The Sun” goes the only possible step further: after a sombre first minute or so, the fog of instrumental blarney clears, the group shake off their long faces and “Seasons”’ boyband moves run exactly against its supposed ‘meaning’. Lines about loss and death are sung in the precise way any love song would be: “Goodbah Michelle it’s hard to diy-iy-iy!”. Even Terry Jacks’ smash-and-grab job on Brel didn’t go that far.

Factor in the song’s own recursive stairway to heaven – those monstrous, tiered key changes piping you further up and further in to Simon’s Country – and you have a song that’s almost as awesomely wrong-headed as “The Millennium Prayer”. And this is how, despite Cowell’s efforts, pop music can fight back against his attempts to reduce it and iron out its creases. The seven weeks of Cliff and Westlife are, you could fairly claim, the darkest hour we have faced so far: two records where self-satisfied calculation meets cack-handed execution. They are terrible singles. And still some kind of oddness, some novelty, can poke through, even in Cowell’s home territory, the micro-managed world of Westlife. We had never heard Auld Lang Syne spliced with The Lord’s Prayer before. We have never heard a death ballad flambéed in insincerity, boyband style, either. It turns out that hearing these things is stupid and awful. But they are new. The charts can survive stupid and awful: predictability, the endless loop of pop’s Cowellian afterlife, will be the real enemy in the years to come.

Popular will return on February 1st. Let’s all meet up for the year 2000.



  1. 1
    Tom on 31 Dec 2014 #

    (I am taking a month off, but other things will appear on the site – including the 1999 and the 90s poll)

  2. 2
    ciaran on 31 Dec 2014 #

    Will give my opinion on this sometime tomorrow.

    Congrats on completing the 90’s Tom.I dont always agree with the marks but I’m amazed you found so much fascinating stuff to write about for nearly every record from beginning to end. Looking forward to the next decade already.

    Enjoy the break and happy new year.

  3. 3
    weej on 31 Dec 2014 #

    The key changes at the end of Seasons In The Sun are, for me, without hyperbole, the lowest point in the history of recorded sound. I Have A Dream is passable 3/10 Christmas ballad crap, but it’s entirely incapable of escaping the vortex of SITS. Negative ten.

    (But still, thanks Tom for getting us through the 90s! You deserve a break for a bit after that workrate.)

  4. 4
    AMZ1981 on 31 Dec 2014 #

    Firstly happy new year Tom and enjoy your break. I’ve been a reader long before I dared become a commenter (discovered it after the article in The Times) and every post is a pleasure to read – even if I beg to differ more than I nod my head. Not on this occasion though.

    Millenium fever probably obscured the fact that there were actually two seperate things at stake. Christmas Day 1999 was a Saturday so the Christmas number one and the century bridging chart topper didn’t necessarily have to be the same record. With hindsight (I only just thought to check the dates) it’s strange that nobody thought a NYD targeted record released a week later was a possibility.

    It would probably have made a good narrative if Sir Cliff had made both milestones. As it was he mis-timed his release (to be fair he probably didn’t anticipate quite how well it would do) and had shot his bolt sales wise. The result was that everybody went for the Xmas chart (as opposed to sales) week with the following line up. Westlife, Cliff Richard, John Lennon’s most famous if not remotely his best song re-issued, a pair of dancing hamsters, S Club 7, Artful Dodger (dropping four places), Steps and (literally) a piece of s**t making the critical eight.

    I’ve made the point before that Westlife were not coming close to the sales figures of their rivals and yet they entered the race with a sense of entitlement and succeeded in beating S Club 7 and Steps convincingly. Curiously all three went with double sided singles. S Club 7 can be discounted (although I’ll return to them) as both their songs were already available on a parent album. Steps, however, were repeating the trick that had worked so well with Heartbeat/ Tragedy; Say You’ll Be Mine (original and nominal lead side) backed with Better The Devil You Know (perky party friendly cover). Previous sales figures suggested that Steps should have been favourites and yet they never seemed like contenders. Westlife might have had a slight advantage in that they were plugging the new recording (Seasons In The Sun was on the album, I Have A Dream wasn’t) and yet not only did they motivate the record buying public they continued to hold the top spot for a further three weeks.

    Which takes us to the Millenium chart and the week reflecting sales figures from the biggest retail week of the year. Top three static, the lavatory related number rising to four, Artful Dodger and S Club 7 switching places and Steps getting pushed down to eight.

    Week three is interesting. The Christmas and novelty records collapse to the lower half of the top ten, S Club 7 shoot up to two, Artful Dodger return to three and Steps peak at four (Venga Boys had broken their number one at three streak in Cliff’s final week but their song also bounced back). Week four saw little change except that Artful Dodger went back to two after a three week break. My point is that it’s curious that Westlife held on to the top so imperiously when elsewhere the party fare was pushing out the slop.

    Final thought – were the seven weeks of Cliff and Westlife really worse than the nine of My Ding A Ling and Long Haired Lover From Liverpool in 72/73?

  5. 5
    JLucas on 31 Dec 2014 #

    I Have A Dream is one of ABBA’s most derided major singles, but I have to say I think it’s tragically undervalued. I suspect the children’s choir are the reason – they instantly place the song in school assembly hell. It’s true they’re a mistake – too heavy handed on an otherwise beautifully subtle recording. Ignore them, and listen to Frida’s solo performance for the first two thirds of the song.

    In lesser (Irish) hands, the lyrics could read as a collection of saccharine platitudes. But Andersson & Ulvaeus were too precise to throw away a lyric like “I have a dream, a fantasy, to help me through reality” without knowing exactly what those words implied. The title may invoke Martin Luther King, but this is a dream that the singer knows isn’t going to come true. Frida’s unfussy, quietly dignified performance gets to the heart of this lyric perfectly. It’s not a celebratory song, but one about holding yourself together even when there’s nothing left to hold onto but a distant fantasy.

    Shane Filan and Bryan McFadden are not vocalists who tend to find the hidden emotional core of the songs they sing. Their performances are pure X Factor bombast. The extended notes and ad-libs are unutterably grim, and they race through the song like it’s an audition piece they’ve sung many times before but never really listened to.

    Seasons In The Sun, on the other hand, really is a mawkish load of old toot no matter who’s singing it. For that reason, perversely, it’s my favourite Westlife recording. It’s bizarrely morbid for a boyband song, and they predictably have absolutely no idea what to do with it – check out how confused they look in the video. Their only solution is to steamroller through it with the same shit-eating grins and insincere ad-libbing they apply to everything else they’ll ever be given. The multiple triumphal key changes turn it into from a despondent lament into a sort of beer-hall singalong, and it’s *hilarious*.

    1/10 for I Have a Dream, 6/10 for Season In The Sun. I’m so offended by what they do to ‘…Dream’ though that I’ll average down to a 3.

  6. 6
    flahr on 31 Dec 2014 #

    I once (unfairly) lost a point in a quiz in the bar of Murray Edwards College by naming “Seasons in the Sun” as the final #1 of the 20th century when the quizmaster was expecting “I Have a Dream”. A point we would have won by as well. Naturally I groused about it as soon as I got home (and had confirmed it was definitely a double A-side); naturally my teammates unanimously (and probably correctly) ignored me for the rest of the evening.

    #4: I BELIEVE those dancing hamsters were the first single I ever bought! Bizarrely they topped the Festive Fifty and have, via Ricardo Autobahn, a dizzying pedigree of Eurovision weirdness and links to WELSH PUNK HEROES Helen Love. I wrote about the song as part of a job application to the Official Charts Company. They never got back to me.

    I feel as if these two extremely minor stories of pop bitterness stand as an adequate comment on the merits of this single.

  7. 7
    Billy Hicks on 31 Dec 2014 #

    And yet it could have been an astonishing final #1 of the 1990s had the track at number 4 the previous week just sold a few thousand more.

    Again, like this, it was a cover. But one that took a classical music piece from the start of the century, and gave it a makeover so radical that while some deride it as slightly offensive, it is up there for me as one of the best dance tracks of all time. And yet I have no memory of hearing it until around 2004-5, very late at night as part of a hard house/trance set on internet radio, and being absolutely baffled when the pounding beats cut out and, of all things, that sad song from ‘Platoon’ started playing. Then the drop, then the build, and then the next few minutes I lost myself in euphoria. A few months after that first listen a cover by Tiesto made the lower end of the top 40, but it doesn’t compare.

    Combining both sides of the 20th century and sounding at the time like the most astonishing thing to ever hit the top reaches of the chart – there’d been the likes of Out of the Blue, Carte Blanche etc but they were top 20 hits rather than the top 5 smash of this – William Orbit and Ferry Corsten’s ‘Barber’s Adagio for Strings’ would have been the perfect, perfect festive #1 and start of the next millennium. And to be fair it sold bloody well, a chart run that hovered up and down the top 10 and indeed gained sales in the January as the Christmas novelty hits faded and this enjoyed continued club airplay. Just not enough to beat the varied competition of the likes of John Lennon, the Vengaboys, Cliff Richard and this.

    I say all this as if I actually thought it at the time, but to my honest my pick of the moment back then as an eleven year old was ‘Better the Devil You Know’ by Steps, a respectable #7 in the festive chart. Which actually, again, would have been oddly fitting – a big hit of the first year of the 1990s becomes a big hit at the very end. Anything other than this.

    Even Cliff getting it would be better than this.

  8. 8
    chelovek na lune on 31 Dec 2014 #

    Thanks, Tom, for your services well beyond the call of duty in listening to a fair bit of bloody awful music and writing what are almost always really insightful analyses to and responses thereof. After 1999 – and this double side of dreck, you deserve at least a month off.

    I can’t honestly say that W—life’s version of IHAD is markedly worse than the Abba original – it was by far the worst of their major singles, dripping with an excess of slightly frigid sentimentality (dangerously close to Cliff Richard territory, even, self-righteousness triumphing over righteous passion). The melody is not ugly, and there’s nothing particularly wrong with this version of the record, just nothing remarkable or memorable, beyond the melody.

    Similarly….one could make a case that W—life’s take on SITS is no more of a travesty than was Terry Jacks’ version a travesty of Brel’ s “original” (not that the translated lyrics are close in meaning to those of “Le Moribund”, but anyway). It may in fact be best approached as a comic record – lyrics the band have not the slightest clue about how to interpret emphatically, and ludicrously in-your-face key changes. Almost a piece of comedy of social inappropriateness, the Woody Allen number in the W—life repertory. But with few redeeming qualities (beyond the initial quality of the original song, which is hard to completely destroy, even in a semi-demi-desecrated condition), other than I kind of now regret that Westlife didn’t record a whole album of morbid songs – it may, perhaps, have led them to extend their emotional range.

    Happy New year, and…on to better things? Eventually, perhaps…

  9. 9
    Erithian on 31 Dec 2014 #

    If they had recorded a whole album of morbid songs maybe they’d have been moved to stick their heads in a gas oven and thereby spare us another dozen dirges coming up. No, sorry, that’s an unworthy thought of the kind I should make a new year’s resolution to avoid. Even for W——e. OK, I’ll try.

    I’ve just forced myself to watch YouTube clips of both songs, and all I can say is thank God that’s over. Long lingering shots of each Lifer’s face in turn, emoting like they’re God’s gift and only Shane seems to have any subtlety in his vocals. And you can see the Cowellisation of pop gathering pace – seeing the five of them in a line grimacing away is just like watching the likes of Stereo Kicks now. This is how to perform, this (or melismatic Mariah impressions if you’re female) is how to win on my show, this is what Louis reckons a pop star looks like. On the cusp of the new century, you can see the future and, sadly, it works.

  10. 10
    Erithian on 31 Dec 2014 #

    Time for the traditional annual review. Here’s where we’ve been at the end of each calendar year:
    2003 Great Balls Of Fire (#66, Jan 58 – 5 years 2 months, 66 entries in the year)
    2004 A World Without Love (#167, Apr 64 – 6 years 3 months, 101)
    2005 Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine (#222, Aug 66 – 2 years 4 months, 55)
    2006 Get It On (#302, Jul 71 – 4 years 11 months, 80)
    2007 Lonely This Christmas (#362, Dec 74 – 3 years 5 months, 60)
    2008 This Ole House (#477, Mar 81 – 6 years 3 months, 115 (plus the Pistols!))
    2009 I Want To Wake Up With You (#575, Aug 86 – 5 years 5 months, 98)
    2010 World In Motion (#646, Jun 90 – 3 years 10 months, 71)
    2011 No Limit (#685, Feb 93 – 2 years 8 months, 39)
    2012 Doop (#703, Mar 94 – 1 year 1 month, 18)
    2013 Forever Love (#742, Jul 96 – 2 years 4 months, 39)
    2014 I Have a Dream/Seasons in the Sun (#844, Dec 99 – 3 years 5 months, 102)

    Popular’s second most prolific year in terms of entries – more than the previous three years put together – and the best since 2008. Note, however, how the turnover of number ones is so much faster now: almost the same number of entries in 2004 accounted for nearly three years more, and the same period of time was covered by 60 entries in 2007 as opposed to 102 this year.

    As ever, Happy New Year to the Popular crew, and have a good break Tom. What a satisfying feeling it must be to round off the year by finishing the 90s on here and finishing the Top 100 project with that magnificent Pet Shop Boys essay. See you in Feb.

  11. 11
    lonepilgrim on 31 Dec 2014 #

    as I came of age as a pop consumer in the 1970s I still hold resentment at the likes of Brotherhood of Man topping the charts instead of some more credible act and I can look back and wonder why Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane missed out on the number 1 spot.
    When I lived through these moments (particularly as someone in their teens/twenties) there was a worry that the music I loved and the values that it embodied was being ignored, censored or swept away and there would be NO GOOD MUSIC EVER AGAIN (sob). With the benefit of hindsight/middle aged complacency these fears seem less significant. As my investment in the charts began to wane in the 1990s so my sense of outrage at pop injustice also diminished. I was vaguely aware of this single being a hit and knew the songs from their earlier iterations. Listening to them again and with more attention than I would normally give them I don’t mind them – IHAD is almost indestructible as a tune and there are some subtle synthy things going on beneath the wailing that I enjoy. I always find SITS cheery nihilism and its mass appeal fascinating even if I don’t want to listen to it for long.

  12. 12
    thefatgit on 31 Dec 2014 #

    Congratulations to Tom for wrapping up the 90’s on this New Year’s Eve. Enjoy your thoroughly deserved month off.

    I’ll comment further on IHAD/SITS later.

  13. 13
    enitharmon on 31 Dec 2014 #

    If I Have A Dream was Bjorn and Benny’s worst single they don’t have much to worry about. One could wish that the worst singles by The Who, say (“Dogs” probably, a real dog) were as bad.

    As far as Seasons in the Sun is concerned, I can only revisit what I thought about Terry Jacks’s version – a travesty of a fine Jacques Brel song that is entirely unsentimental, one that turns it to pass-the-bucket mush. And having believed – and still believing – that Terry Jacks was beyond a joke I can’t be more damning than Westlife’s version, which is like a boys’ school choir going through its paces.

  14. 14
    enitharmon on 31 Dec 2014 #

    Quoth Billy Hicks @ 7 And yet it could have been an astonishing final #1 of the 1990s had the track at number 4 the previous week just sold a few thousand more.

    Are you going to put an oldie out of her misery by telling us what it is so that she can explore it for herself?

  15. 15
    Erithian on 31 Dec 2014 #

    Read on, Rosie – he’s talking about Barber’s Adagio for Strings as reworked by William Orbit. Happy listening! (and happy new year)

  16. 16
    Lazarus on 31 Dec 2014 #

    Number 4 for the w/e 18 Dec was William Orbit’s take on Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which dropped to 9 in Christmas week; the new chart saw a few novelty items – the Cuban Boys ‘Cognoscenti vs Intelligentsia’ (otherwise known as the Hamster Dance, a rare Peel hit) a re-entry at 3 for ‘Imagine’ as the world got all thoughtful, like, and perhaps it’s best to pass swiftly over Mr Hankey at 8, rather than the more appropriate number two.

  17. 17
    enitharmon on 31 Dec 2014 #

    Ah yes, as you were Billy!

  18. 18
    Tom on 31 Dec 2014 #

    #10 very interesting as usual Erithian! I suspect that in terms of wordcount this has been easily the biggest year (“Don’t we know it” – Westlife-hating readers). With the January break I don’t know if I’ll get to 100 next time but I’ll give it a shot – the aim is the end of 2002, reducing the deficit from 15 years to 13. Christ, that’s a miserable statistic. Happy New Year, everyone :)

  19. 19
    Billy on 31 Dec 2014 #

    You really have set yourself a Sisyphean task and Cliff, Westlife et al don’t make it any easier. Weaker men would have given up long before now. Enjoy your month off, things do get a tad more interesting as we head into the noughties.

    Happily I have no memory of the Westlife tracks and I’m happy to stay that way, clearly I was too concerned about whether I’d have a functioning workplace come Y2K to care about the charts.

  20. 20
    swanstep on 31 Dec 2014 #

    Excellent lead essay by Tom (you’ve been on fire lately, good sir!) which has found far more of interest to say about this single than it deserves. What to add? Well, when I filtered my iTunes by ‘I Have A Dream’ I returned Abba’s song (and its covers) and The Everlys’ ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’. It’s rare for Abba to get melodically blown out of the water in an ad hoc comparison, but that’s what happens here: The Everlys’ track is bliss whereas IHAD is a starchy, pious trudge. ‘I cross the stream’ (Frida’s thinking of the River Styx?) is best heard as a plural a la Ghostbusters.

    Anyhow, Westlife have nothing new to say about IHAD. Their SITS is comically wrong-headed for the reasons Tom describes. Fan-base #1s are almost always pretty awful in my view, but this double-A-side of covers of two unloved original songs has to strike non-fans as unfathomable stupidity. IHAD/SITS Makes the 10-week reign of terror of ‘Smooth’ (by Santana w/ Ron Thomas) we were suffering under in the US at this time seem not so bad by comparison:

  21. 21
    mapman132 on 31 Dec 2014 #

    Tom, congratulations on making it to the end of the year/decade/century/millennium. I wondered at the beginning of 2014 whether this was your goal, and despite the torrid pace it required, you made it. Enjoy your well-earned time away!

    And so the y/d/c/m ends with the 7th consecutive UK #1 to have no US impact. The title “I Have A Dream” immediately makes me think of MLK of course, but upon listening it was instantly familiar and in my ignorance tried to remember what stage show it was from. Well, duh. In my defense, it IS in a stage show, just not yet in 1999. I’m mildly surprised ABBA’s version is unpopular here, considering how beloved they are otherwise.

    SITS of course needed no introduction to me. It’s a song that despite it’s poor reputation within the pop nadir of 1974, I’ve always had a soft spot for. So, two songs I like in their original form, and Westlife manages to screw up both by dulling whatever I liked about them with their MOR voices. Westlife is basically the musical equivalent of a mediocre restaurant chain: a familiar brand for people who aren’t willing or interested enough to explore other options. The good news in the long term is that this type of dross has become less common atop the charts in the digital age of instantly available music of all genres. The bad news is we have a long decade of doldrums to get through in the meantime.

    6/10 for the songs, but 3/10 for the execution. Disappointing way to end the century.

  22. 22
    mapman132 on 31 Dec 2014 #

    #20 “Smooth” wasn’t a bad song – I was initially happy to see Santana finally get a #1 – but as the final number one of the century, it sounded utterly wrong. At least it wasn’t Westlife. Also, apologies for being pedantic, but it was actually #1 for 12 weeks – the first song to top the chart for exactly 12 weeks on either side of the Atlantic.

  23. 23
    Tom on 31 Dec 2014 #

    #21 (and others): “Worst ABBA single” means “would barely scrape a 6” not “actually bad”. No ABBA song is bad. This tries harder than most to be though :)

  24. 24
    Kinitawowi on 31 Dec 2014 #

    For a few brief moments there I was afraid we were going to get back to back 1s.

  25. 25
    Rory on 31 Dec 2014 #

    Echoing the congratulations, Tom, on a job well done this year. I’ve really enjoyed revisiting the late ’90s throughout the year, including various byways not represented in the number ones themselves.

    And so to this…

    My instinctive reaction to these Westlife tracks is quickly becoming like those scenes in old IPC comics where Pongo Snodgrass was being forcefed castor oil and screaming “Groooohhh!”, so I wasn’t looking forward to this at all. Sure enough, “Seasons in the Sun” is ghastly, a grooohh-inducing 1 at best.

    “I Have a Dream”, though… I hadn’t realised it was one of ABBA’s singles, I’d just heard it as an album track from Voulez-Vous, and in that context I quite liked it. And there’s enough of Björn and Benny in this version to make it listenable, if not enough of Frida to make it good. Every silly boyband flourish detracts from it, but I was still able to sit through it without feeling I was being forcefed Popular medicine, in contrast with the flipside or the previous number one.

    Three or four for “Dream”, then. Two overall.

  26. 26
    thefatgit on 31 Dec 2014 #

    ABBA’s “I Have A Dream” isn’t bad at all. Like others have mentioned, a “worst ABBA single” wouldn’t be kicked off the turntable in my gaff. It has a whiff of Svenska Dansband about it, which perhaps points to Benny’s tastes rather than Bjorn’s. One wonders what might have happened if “Waterloo” had not blown Eurovision wide open: the band might have been stuck in Folkpark obscurity forever. What Westlife did with it was rinse any trace of Anna-Frid’s dignity from it as the boys, especially Shane and Bryan (by this time the odd one out, just look at his cover mugshot) flattened the terrain for the urchins’ chorus finale. Even now, it still rankles that people willingly ushered in Cowell’s tin-eared pop hegemony with ham-fisted sludge like this.

    But even IHAD is more palatable than SITS. Terry Jacks’ torturing of Jacques Brel is an obvious low point for pop in the 70s. I suppose the death ballad trope is a metaphor of transition from one state to another IRL. A 20th Century ends. A 21st begins. Now to then. There to Here. As much as New Labour were willing to mark the event with the Dome and the pizzazz and the fireworks, with hindsight, the 21st Century didn’t really begin for another 88 weeks and 3 days from when the Tesco fizz stopped bubbling. A little foreshadowing won’t disturb the bunny.

    SITS is awful. Westlife doing SITS is skull-crushingly painful. I don’t need to expand any more than that. For the purposes of Popular, I’ll give IHAD 2 and SITS 1, giving an average of 1.5, which I’ll round down to 1, because it’s Westlife and I vehemently, unapologetically dislike Westlife. There, I said it.

  27. 27
    iconoclast on 31 Dec 2014 #

    And here is where we Iconoclasts throw in the towel, probably for good. The prospect of these two songs is bad enough, but we just can’t bring ourselves to listen to any of the first few dozen Number Ones of the 2000’s, much less rant despairingly about the steady decline of popular music since we were fourteen, or whenever. We guess we’re just not made of the necessary poptastic stuff.

    A very Happy Iconoclast-free New Year to all of Popular, and special congratulations to Tom for his perseverance and tenacity in the service of his mission.

  28. 28
    ciaran on 31 Dec 2014 #

    This lot again.

    A double A-side was a bit much at this point but they do suit each other in a cant have one without the other sort of way.Well positioned to take advantage of the christmas market after a hectic year commercially.

    Not having heard either for a long time I was expecting to be sour on one and in favour of the other.Except IHAD isnt actually as bad as I thought it would be. Not that it’s going to win me over or anything but it’s nowhere near their worst offence.The biggest advantage relatively speaking is that at least they look happy here instead of longing for that special someone who has left them. Does get a bit 5-pints-into-a-Temple-Bar night on the town for its own good but it sort of holds itself together.

    SITS was a right pain in the arse to sit through. It gets off to a bad start by showcasing Kian Egan who I can’t bear and then Brian Mcfadden whose already looking like a fish out
    of water. Worse still it never gets out of first gear and just pure Westlife by Numbers for a finish. The last thing the chart needed is another 911’s A Little Bit More reminder. Actually 2nd last after the Millennium Prayer.

    I’d be inclined to give IHAD 5 but dock it a point for being bloody Westlife and SITS is on a low scale. A 1 would be very harsh especially after Cliff so a 2 it is. 3 for the overall package.

  29. 29
    Shiny Dave on 31 Dec 2014 #

    Congratulations to Tom, and this skewering of “Seasons In The Sun” is a magnificent way to bow out for now – especially given how it looks ahead to what’s to come. Hope you follow through on the previously mentioned plan for double entries – I can see a couple of possibilities in 2000. (#852-3 is bleeding obvious for it, #856-7 and #866-7 could also be tied together. Looking ahead to early 2001, #893 is on one hand a significant enough record to deserve its own entry, but on the other hand is significant in a very particular context that #892 firmly ties into.)

    #7 I absolutely loved Orbit’s Adagio for Strings – almost certainly because the Barber was completely unfamiliar to me so I had no reason to treat it with reverence. (And it’s not Orbit who’s thrown a trance beat over the top of it – he produced it essentially straight as part of Pieces In A Modern Style, the chart version was a Ferry Corsten remix. The Tiesto version is horrid, but the Orbit-Corsten one is fabulous – out of context. The song’s use in mourning of the event lampshaded in #26 was my first awareness of the origin of Adagio for Strings, and I rather stopped liking it in Orbit-Corsten form after that. Nowadays, I get it out for occasional play, mostly at a very particular point in my rapid depression cycle where I’m wanting to wallow in misery and bounce around energetically all at once.

    (While thinking about the events of 2001, there’s a very big bunny that autumn whose enormity might well have been partly a product of being an outlet for escapism.)

  30. 30
    Shiny Dave on 31 Dec 2014 #

    Oh, and regarding SITS – where’s the H in that acronym? – I always had the assumption its post-70s life was entirely as a sporting chant. (I can’t really say “terrace chant” when this cover’s chart run encompasses the tenth anniversary of the Taylor Report…) Are Westlife – whose target market probably had less crossover with chanting fans than those who, with a little Tory press behavioural priming, thought they were probably all hooligans – tapping into that second life of the song?

    (I’ve just facepalmed at my own accidental joke in the context of this song…)

  31. 31
    swanstep on 1 Jan 2015 #

    @mapman, 22. Thanks for the correction, and, I agree that ‘Smooth’ isn’t terrible (so my ‘reign of terror’ was in jest). But I do remember being puzzled about the whole Santana-upswelling at the time and quite how Mr Matchbox 20 was in a position to facilitate that resurgence.

    In general too, while the top of the UK charts is ridiculously fragmented at this point the US charts needed an enema. Using Erithian’s lovely figures we can calculate that a similarly diligent US-Tom starting where Tom was a year ago (July ’96) would already be up to February/March 2005!

  32. 32
    mapman132 on 1 Jan 2015 #

    #31 Agreed. One of the reasons I’ve continued to take interest in the UK charts all this time is the Hot 100 moves way too s-l-o-w-l-y. And once a certain artist finds the Hot 100 sweet spot, they seem to dominate the chart 24/7/365 for a while (Santana in 99/00, Taylor right now, many other examples in between).

    Of course, 30-40 number ones a year is a bit extreme on the other end. One national chart that does have what I consider an ideal amount of turnover is Australia.

  33. 33
    Query on 1 Jan 2015 #

    I don’t know if this is more appropriate here or in the 90’s poll, but as we bid farewell to 1999 we can begin to make out, on the horizon, a development with even greater import for the pop landscape than the arrival of Simon Cowell: file-sharing. 1999 is the year Napster was launched, picking up millions of users practically overnight, with it reaching popular notoriety in the US as early as May 2000 (after the Metallica incident – which I’m sure we’ll discuss soon enough). The Bitorrent protocol was designed the following year, in 2001.

    And so we head into the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns…

  34. 34
    katstevens on 2 Jan 2015 #

    Blogging Without Wings determined that the Wezzas’ I Have A Dream is marginally better than the ABBA version (this still doesn’t make it much good) and Seasons In The Sun is our first real stinker.

  35. 35
    J on 3 Jan 2015 #

    #21 Mamma Mia! had premiered in April 1999 with IHAD the closing song of Act II

  36. 36
    James BC on 5 Jan 2015 #

    That reference to The Last Battle is incredibly apt for Seasons In The Sun. Both may be unrivalled in their spheres for crassness in the face of death, and if the Narnia film series ever gets that far, Seasons (Jacks or Westlife version) should absolutely soundtrack the “further up” scene.

  37. 37
    Mark M on 30 Jan 2015 #

    I was at a quiz tonight, and one of the questions was: what was the No1 record at the turn of the millennium? And I thought, I know I’ll know that… But I didn’t.

  38. 38
    enitharmon on 30 Jan 2015 #

    @37 No, technically and to the kind of people who compile pub quizzes it wouldn’t be this one.

  39. 39
    Mark M on 30 Jan 2015 #

    Re38: They weren’t pub quiz compilers – it was set by showbiz journalists. And if you mean NYE/D 2000/1 vs 1999/2000, they definitely meant this one.

  40. 40
    MUSICALITY on 24 Apr 2017 #

    Awful song and band and the first cover of many as they enter their new phase as the World’s most glorified covers band – WESTLIFE –

  41. 41
    benson_79 on 18 Mar 2021 #

    If I’ve gained anything from reading through all these years of Popular, then it’s (and I say this with some trepidation) a bizarre fondness for the Terry Jacks version of SITS. I can’t really explain why, and I can absolutely see why some consider it the worst record ever made, but there’s something morbidly fascinating about it (pun intended).

    The Westlife version is even more absurd, but in a less fun way.

  42. 42
    Gareth Parker on 31 May 2021 #

    Westlife’s double B-side gets a very generous 2/10 from me. Laughable stuff from the boys, in my opinion.

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