Yes! Back thanks to an almost universal lack of demand, I stretch back the scalp of time and feast upon the mushy innards of the past – in this instance I return to the UK music charts. If you’re interested, you can read my original post here – https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/the-uk-top-40/
Assuming you’re not interested, here’s a brief recap: Chart music is generally crap, but was it any better in the past? And although I’m always curiously biased against banal, trending, emotionless, money grabbing crap, I will say honestly whether I feel a song has any merits or not. So, I’m going to go back through the years and look at the Top 10 of a particular week in October (just because October is the month I happened to look at in my original post). I was originally going to go back year by year in descending order but I think I’d get bored if I did that so I’ll probably just hop about at random. Naturally, information may be scant from the early days so I’ll have to be creative.
Apparently the UK singles chart started in 1952 but there were various competing charts until the 1980s, so there may be a challenge in keeping to what was official. In any event, I’ll likely just pull whatever information I can find via the first list I find and go with that.
The year I will be focusing on today will be revealed after the following dots… 1996! You are almost certainly asking yourself ‘what was I doing in 1996’? Well, I’ll answer you, by pretending that you are me. In 1996, I was a few years into secondary school and still reeling from the death of Kurt Cobain. It was in these years that I put away all my Nirvana stuff and began looking for a replacement, a new thing to love, a new thing to speak to and for me. Behold! It was in 1996 that Everything Must Go by The Manic Street Preachers came along, becoming probably my favourite band of all time, and one of my favourite albums. Ironically, the lead single from the album – A Design For Life – was released almost two years to the day after Cobain’s death. I had heard some songs and things from the band previously, but didn’t really pay attention to them until A Design For Life. For those two years I wandered in a haze of chart music and old habits of metal. One of my best mates was turning towards cheesy Dance music, and others I knew who had also been into Nirvana were moving on to cooler, more commercial stuff, or diving directly into Britpop. Apparently that’s called growing up, something I didn’t, and still don’t want any part of. I was the only person I knew who was listening to the Manics, and that was just fine.
What else was happening in 1996? Close to home, the IRA was up to their usual antics which included bombing London and Manchester, injuring over 200 people in Manchester alone. Meanwhile the RUC and Orange Order were up to their usual antic in the popular annual event at Drumcree Church. Elsewhere, Dolly The Sheep was born, OJ Simpson went on trial, the N64 was released in Japan, the Summer Olympics made their way to Atlanta, while England hosted Euro 96 with the Czech Republic being cheated out of glory. In the music world, Tupac Shakur released All Eyez On Me only to be killed a few months later, Jarvis Cocker lives up to his name by acting like a dick at the Brit Awards, Alice In Chains recorded a show for MTV Unplugged, The Spice Girls appear, Michael Jackson embarked on the HIStory tour, and Eminem released his first album. But none of that matters, what we’re hear to do is of course listen to me rant about the shitty quality of chart music by listening to the top 10 songs of a particular week in October. Are you excited? If you said ‘no’, well, you really should be. If you said ‘yes’, go outside and cut yourself a stick from yonder tree and for me to come over there and give you 20 stiff lashes with it.
1: Spice Girls: Say You’ll Be There
Looking at the name I couldn’t remember which one this was, but I remember it, and the video after the first few seconds of listening. It’s the sort of upbeat fluff they were good at, but it certainly has nowhere near the same impact and craft as Wannabee. What’s most amusing (and which I’m sure I understood at the time, but have forgotten since) is what terrible singers the girls are, even on record. usualy if a performer is selected for their looks and personality rather than musical ability, a good producer and team can still make them sound okay in the studio, but here it is laughably bad. Each girl gets a few solo lines and they’re all poor, with the exception of Sporty. The chorus isn’t so bad, somehow the voices work well together. It’s about sex.
2: Boyzone: Words
Oh Budda, not this shat. The original wasn’t great in the first place, but here it’s made incalculably worse by having Ronan’s warbling through it all, backed by some sociopathically empty piano and strings. I’m not sure why the other four blokes are there – none of them, not even the kneecap-able elfin one, get a line for themselves. In fact, they are barely even there as backing singers. Completely unnecessary, like going to the doctor for a regular check-up and having him amputate your face, or something. It’s about arguments and meaningless words.
3: Faithless: Insomnia
One of the very few obvious dance tracks of the era that I actually like. It wasn’t about sex or love or some other crap (although there were references to shagging), it actually sounded grandiose, intelligent, and fucking creepy. It’s not perfect though, the drum sounds in the early verses are weak and those ‘woo’ sounds are silly. Plus, it’s over the halfway mark in the song that the bit you all know kicks in. Still, good stuff. It’s about insomnia.
4: Cast: Flying
A lot of indie an unkempt bands of the 90s pissed me off to no end, with their gaping mouths, unwashed hair, and generally ugly appearance, along with a lazy drawl in the vocals. Cast were as guilty of this as anyone – they, and a hundred other bands basically sounded like Oasis rip offs. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this was an Oasis song – it has those vocals, that swagger, but there’s more of a West Coast 60s feel to this one. It’s a decent song, thirty songs longer than it needs to be, catchy, okay riff, and well suited to being a jingle for BA or Virgin or Easyjet.
5: Celine Dion: It’s All Coming Back To Me Now
I had a lot of fun with this one back in school, but I’m not sure why. Probably because of Dion’s distinctive voice, and I imagine I probably made a show of myself doing impressions of her singing it. I think the Meat Loaf-esque video of laughable operatic death also had something to do with it. Still, it’s rare nowadays to get epic in scope songs like this in the charts. Ah yes, it was line ‘there were nights of endless pleasure’ that I used to parody to the delight of at least one other person. Tough crowd. I would only parody something with such glee though if I appreciated it in the first place. If I don’t like something, then I’ll just ignore it. Until these posts of course. Still, good cheesy fun with big notes and choruses, so I’m happy. It’s about missing sex.
6: Babybird: You’re Gorgeous
Babybird… remember them? No, neither do I. Another atrocity. I should in some ways appreciate this for its piss-take of music and money and all the rest of it, but ever since I heard this song when it first came out I have despised it. For reasons unknown to anyone currently housing a brain in their above-shoulder region, this was a hit. It must have been the sleazy lyrics and the sleep-inducing vocals. Of course, it’s an easy chorus to sing along with, but it was so vastly overplayed that even hearing it now makes me want to plug up me ears with my eyes. It’s about preying on impressionable girls – sex in other words.
7: Deep Blue Something: Breakfast At Tiffany’s
This one on the other hand I do have fond memories of, though I’m sure it probably went through a bout of overplaying. It’s a super infectious song, one of quite a few one-off singles that blended acoustic pop and gentle melodies with a post-grunge era electric edge. It’s a very easy one to play on guitar and have people instantly recognise it, no matter how badly you play it. It’s still a crowd-pleaser to this day, just a silly slice of fun that is both timeless and a product of its time. It’s about sex.
8: Suede: Beautiful Ones
This became one of Suede’s most successful and well-known songs, instantly recognizable from the opening seconds and with a superb verse and chorus combo. Not much else to say about this one as I don’t really have any memories specifically tied to it – great tune, and I’m not sure why Suede weren’t bigger than they actually were.
9: Donna Lewis: I Love You Always Forever
Looking down the list of songs here, this is the only one that I couldn’t remember simply by looking at the artist and name (yes yes, i know I couldn’t remember precisely which Spice Girls song number 1 was, but I knew that I would know it..). So, I have zero recollection of this song, but we’ll soon find out if I’ve heard it as I hit play in 3, 2, 1…. no, I don’t remember it. Not yet. The voice sounds familiar, but likely because she sounds like someone else. There is something familiar though…the verses I don’t remember at all, but I do vaguely recall the chorus. I’ve no idea then if I’ve heard the whole song, or if the chorus appeared in some advertisement. It’s a little bland and overly soft. The chorus is okay I suppose, not much of a melody, not much of a voice. It’s about sex.
10: Beautiful South: Rotterdam
I’ve never been a fan of the Beautiful South, and not even songs like this which I sorta kinda didn’t mind could convert me. It’s a band that simply rubbed me the wrong way – the hair, the faces, the voices, the fact that everything sounded so twee. This one certainly sounds twee, and it certainly has vocals that annoy me, the lyrics grate on me too. I must be an awful person to be near, listen to, read. It’s catchy sure, the chorus is sure to batter away at you for hours, so I can understand why many will enjoy it. It’s fine. White bread with the crusts cut off. It’s about everyone and everywhere being shit.
So, a list of songs hitting my ears at what most would deem to be their most absorbent musical period – between the age of 10 – 20. It isn’t a great list, but there are some songs I still like and am happy to hear again. What does this chart tell us about 1996 in music? That Britpop was still riding high in various guises, that boy and girl bands would fight them off to remain chart-toppers, and that dance tracks, operatic ballads, and one-hit wonders were still in vogue. In a stunning result, the highest selling singles of the year were a one-hit wonder, an operatic ballad, a britpop classic, a girl group hit, and a dance track! Are these songs indicative of the quality of music released in 1996? Well, we had some classic releases in 1996 – All Eyez On Me, The Score (The Fugees), Boys For Pele (Tori Amos), Come Find Yourself (Fun Lovin’ Criminals), The Coming (Busta Rhymes), Moseley Shoals (Ocean Colour Scene), 1977 (Ash), Everything Must Go (Manic Street Preachers), Morningrise (Opeth), The Great Southern Trendkill (Pantera), Antichrist Superstar (Marilyn Manson), and many more.
Finally, as I know you all value my opinion as Gospel, here’s an alternate list of 10 great songs from 1996 that you should listen to in no particular order:
1: A Design For Life: Manic Street Preachers
2: Sugar Water: Cibo Matto
3: Hey Jupiter: Tori Amos
4: How Do U Want It: 2pac
5: Scooby Snacks: Fun Lovin’ Criminals
6: Roots Bloody Roots: Sepultura
7: MMMbop: Hanson
8: The Day We Caught The Train: Ocean Colour Scene
9: Girl From Mars: Ash
10: Nutshell: Alice In Chains
Which of any of the songs above do you love/hate? What are your fondest musical memories of 1996? Have I missed any important songs, albums, or artists? Let us know in the comments!