This Is Pop #15

In a desperate attempt not to talk about last Sunday’s football result, or the fall-out from it, I’ve decided to bury myself in some pop records this morning.

As I’m sure many of you do, I love watching the old re-runs of Top of the Pops on BBC4 on a Friday evening, reminiscing about what I was doing and with whom when I first heard some of the songs that feature, wondering who the hell some of the acts – and hosts – are and why I have absolutely no recollection of them, to the extent that I recently bought myself this t-shirt:

I thought it looked pretty cool and retro, until, as she scanned my groceries through, a shop assistant nodded towards it and said “Awww, your kids must think the world of you to have bought you that!”

So, that’s another tee-shirt I will probably never wear out again, shoved into a drawer along with my Teenage Fanclub one, which just gets me waaaay too many suspicious looks from people who don’t know it’s the name of a band and who think I’m a very confident pervert. (Insert joke about them being half right here, if you must.)

Anyway, traditionally my Friday night warm-up to writing something on here involves a) some booze, and b) watching one of the music documentaries shown on BBC4 or, more recently, Sky Arts.

Recently, though, there’s been a new pretender to the throne, and it airs on Channel 5, of all places – a channel I only usually visit when they had the rights to the cricket highlights, which they no longer do.

But for the past couple of months, every Friday night at 10:00, they’ve been showing a succession of shows called, in that way that only a show on Channel 5 can be titled, Britain’s Biggest Hits.

Lasting ninety minutes each week, they play (clips of) the thirty top selling singles from a certain year, with TOTP2 style factoids appearing on the screen, and talking heads from an array of guests.

And what an glittering calibre of guests they have: here’s Tania Evans! (Who? Only the singer from Culture Beat, that’s who!) telling us that she “really liked” a featured song; now here’s some bloke who is in some way which is never explained, linked to Our Price music stores in the 1990s; here’s – wow, someone I’ve heard of! – Shaun Ryder, in slightly (but only slightly, mind) less sweary mode than he is on Celebrity Gogglebox offering such insights as “If you remember the 1990s then you weren’t really there” (no, Shaun, that’s just you – and I say that as someone who loved the Happy Mondays, adored Black Grape, right up until 1997 when they released their second album Stupid Stupid Stupid, which is pure plop) (Note to self: Idea for new feature where I write about truly awful pop songs, called This Is Plop!); here’s Lee Latchford-Evans (y’know, the bloke from Steps that wasn’t H) offering such perceptive insights as : “We were like Marmite, people either loved us or hated us!” which, if nothing else, accurately displays the extent of his original creative input into the band’s success; here’s Lorraine Crosby (Who? Only the lady who sang the female vocals on Meat Loaf’s 1993 smasheroo I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That), but who was replaced by another, more…er…’photogenic’ lady in the video, that’s who!); here’s one of Boyzone – don’t ask me which one: not Ronan, not the dead one or the one who used to be in Corrie, one of the other ones. Possibly the one whose sisters were in B*Witched – moaning about how he hated recording cover versions, before going on to say he loved murdering recording Baby Can I Hold You because he had no idea it was a cover version of Tracy Chapman’s original version from her multi-million selling debut eponymous album, released some nine years earlier. That’s as may be, nameless Boyzone man, but you knew you hadn’t written it yourself, didn’t you?; oh and here’s one of the girls from B*Witched – possibly one of the sisters of…oh, you get the drift – announcing how they had led to teenage girls adopting double denim as the go-to fashion statement, as if that were something to be proud of.

As you can guess, about 80% of the enjoyment I get from the show is the input of the guests, all pompously pontificating in the blandest possible way about whatever tune is being scutinised.

But the show also serves as a timely reminder of some truly great pop records.

Not that you’ll have forgotten (m)any of those featured – as I mentioned, this is a show which focuses on the thirty best selling singles from a certain year, there’s a few surprise inclusions, but ultimately nothing obscure here – but every now and then a single pops up and you remember just how great pop music can be.

Like this one, which appeared in last night’s show, which was about 1998:

All Saints – Never Ever

Here’s what Wiki has to say about them:

All Saints are an English-Canadian girl group formed in London in 1993. They were founded as All Saints 1.9.7.5 by music manager Ron Tom, who later also founded Sugababes, with members Melanie Blatt, Shaznay Lewis, and Simone Rainford. The group struggled to find commercial success upon being signed to ZTT Records and were dropped by the label shortly after Rainford left the group. In 1996, the group were joined by sisters Nicole and Natalie Appleton and signed to London Records under their shortened name.

Part of the 1990s wave of British girl groups, their debut album, All Saints (1997), peaked at number two on the UK Albums Chart and went on to become the UK’s third best-selling girl group album of all time. The album contained three UK number one singles: “Never Ever”, “Under the Bridge”/”Lady Marmalade” and “Bootie Call”. “Never Ever” is the second best-selling girl group single of all-time in the UK, behind the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe”. It also won two Brit Awards: Best British Single and Best British Video, and the group were nominated for Best British Breakthrough Act. Their second album, Saints & Sinners (2000), became their first UK number-one album and achieved multi-platinum success. It included the UK number one singles “Pure Shores” and “Black Coffee”. Amid in-fighting among the group members, All Saints split the following year.

The group later reformed after signing to Parlophone Records to release their third album, Studio 1 (2006). However, the album bowed at number 40 in the United Kingdom and All Saints were dropped by their label shortly afterwards. Following a second split in 2009, the group reunited in 2014 for a series of live performances, prompting the group to release Red Flag (2016), and Testament (2018). As of January 2016, All Saints have sold 12 million records.

One of the talking heads (and I should stress, when I say “the talking heads”, I do not mean the Talking Heads, but you’d got that, right?) gushing forth on the band on last night’s show was 6Music‘s Mark Radcliffe, who, after talking about how the band had influenced the dress sense of teenage girls slightly older than those following B*Witched‘s denim obsession, observed that they had a great songwriter in Shaznay in their ranks, didn’t sound like any other band – girl group or otherwise – and that when you listen to All Saints now, you get a sense that they never quite achieved as much as they should have done.

And I think he has a point; although selling 12 million records shows they were no slouches, you do listen to some of their singles and just wish there had been more.

For example, this, the main song from the soundtrack of Danny Boyle’s ever-so-slightly underwhelming 2000 film The Beach, which, whenever I hear now, I’m immediately transported back to Brighton beach, and Fatboy Slim’s Big Beach Boutique II from 2002, which I was at, and will probably write about come the twentieth (ouch!) anniversary of it next year (if I remember, that is):

All Saints – Pure Shores

And, finally, this, a much under-rated single in my book:

All Saints – Black Coffee

I suspect I will be returning to Britain’s Best Sellers as an inspiration again.

By which I mean: More soon.