The 100 Greatest UK Number 1 Singles – #89

The other day I was winding down after work, watching tea-time quiz show Pointless (now with 100% less Richard Osman), when I heard guest host, actor Stephen Mangan, mention something which sounded strangely familiar.

You’ll recognise Mangan if not from his name then perhaps from one of his many stints guest-hosting Have I Got News For You, or from appearing in such comedies as Green Wing, Nathan Barley or Episodes, or as the voice of the eponymous hero in Postman Pat: The Movie, or in TV dramas like The Split, or films like Billy Elliott or Rush, or, most likely, for being on the receiving end, albeit unaware that he was, of this classic bit of Partridge:

(And yes, you’re right, all of that was just an excuse to post a clip of North Norfolk’s finest.)

Anyway, the strangely familiar thing that I heard him say was along the lines of: “In 2020, The Guardian newspaper printed a list of what they considered to be the greatest 100 singles to reach the #1 position in the UK charts. Please name any of the artists which featured on the list, trying to choose ones which the fewest of our audience of 100 people remembered.”

Wait a minute, I thought: I used to write a series on exactly this subject, which I would preface with the words: This is the series where I feature The Guardian’s idea of the 100 best UK #1s ever, and we see what I have to say about them (which usually isn’t much, to be honest).

This will be a doddle, I also thought, before being totally baffled when I didn’t remember writing about any of the songs mentioned. And that was because I hadn’t written one since June this year, and in fact had only gotten as far as #90 in the countdown, despite having started the series back in November 2020.

When I last bothered to write one of these, I mentioned that I had deliberately not checked further on the list to see what awaited me, and the subject’s appearance on Pointless had somewhat scuppered that for me. But every cloud has a silver lining: I now know that I can continue safe in the knowledge that I won’t be having to feature anything by Ed Sheeran in this series.

So, what did The Guardian have to say about the record which had reached the giddy heights of #89 in their chart? This:

“Producer Richard X gets a lot of credit for the shuddering magnitude of invention behind the Sugababes’ debut UK No 1 – the first legit single of the 2000s bootleg wave, bringing together Adina Howard and Tubeway Army – but not all of it. The newly minted trio of Mutya, Keisha and Heidi pull off a more convincing “I’m grown now” transition than any of their American pop peers, thanks to the terrifying nonchalance innate to British teenage girls. It’s got a classic belting “may-ee!” (that’s “me” in millennial pop terms) and without it, you wouldn’t have Sound of the Underground – or, even, possibly, whisper it, Toxic.”

They, speak, of course, of this:

Sugababes – Freak Like Me

I’m not sure I follow the argument that without this record there wouldn’t be a Sound of the Underground – the idea of manufactured female pop groups was hardly a new idea when Sugababes appeared on the scene – and I honestly can’t see any link at all between Freak… and Toxic, other then the gender of the performer(s).

I’d be gobsmacked if neither of those records feature later on in the countdown, so we’ll return to this theory then (if I remember and if I get that far, of course).

What I would say is that Sugababes are possibly my second favourite all-female pop group, after the aforementioned Girls Aloud, and probably vying for second place with Bananarama.

And it always annoys me when they’re subject to very predictable jokes about the ever-evolving line-up (which, hands up, I’ve been guilty of myself); they’re truly the Trigger’s broom of the pop world:

But I digress: what of this mention of Freak… being “…the first legit single of the 2000s bootleg wave….”? That “…2000s bootleg wave…” is The Guardian’s way of saying “mash-ups”, which for those of you unfamiliar with either terminologies is where the music from one song has the lyrical part of another laid on top of it, thereby creating – hey presto! – a completely new song. Think sampling taken to the nth degree.

These were immensely popular at the start of the century, as a billion bedroom DJs produced their own. Barely a week would go by without another one where Missy Elliott’s Get Ur Freak On was suddenly backed by the theme tune to Pebble Mll at One, or something equally ridiculous, and to be fair, they were a lot of fun, for a while. Still are when you stumble upon a decent one.

Perhaps it was the musical snob in me that disliked ones where a sample of the lyrics from the featured music also briefly appeared; this seemed to me to be at best a case of giving the listener a helping hand in identifying both featured tunes, or at worst the mixer wanting to show off (“Look at what I did!”, “Yes, we get it, very clever!”).

But Sugababes manage to dodge this particular bullet by keeping the lyrics of Adina Howard’s original…:

Adina’s range of discreet sanitary products never really took off

Adina Howard – Freak Like Me

…entirely seperate from the mechanical mumblings of Gary Numan on Tubeway Army’s classic:

Tubeway Army – Are ‘Friends’ Electric?

But returning to that Guardian description, and the reference to the Sugababes’ Freak… being “…the first legit single of the 2000s bootleg wave“; the word ‘legit’ is doing a lot of heavy lifting there, since surely the credit for the first mash-up single to go overground must go to Freelance Hellraiser’s A Stroke of Genius, which combined the music from The Strokes’ track Hard To Explain with Christina Aguilera’s pop hit Genie in a Bottle“. It was met with a ‘cease and desist’ order from the record label which housed both Aguilera and The Strokes, RCA:

The Freelance Hellraiser – A Stroke of Genius

A Stroke of Genius came out in 2001 and didn’t chart (probably due to that ‘cease and desist’ order); Sugababes’ Freak Like Me was released in 2002. See? It’s all about that word “legit”.

And of course, I’ve written all of this without even mentioning the producer behind Freak…, on Richard X; but it’s getting kinda late now and I’ve banged on for quite long enough, so I’ll revisit him another time.

All of which rather implies that I don’t have much time for the record at #89, and that would be incorrect, for I think it’s a ruddy marvellous tune which, depending on what lies ahead of us, probably should be placed higher than this lowly position.

More soon.

PS – Despite my confusion, I still got all of the answers on that round of Pointless.

50 Ways to Prove I’m Rubbish #25

A couple of weekends ago, I had the pleasure of an afternoon and evening in the company of my old mate Richie, conkers deep in all things Wedding Present.

For a start, we drove over to The Crouch End Picturehouse to watch Something Left Behind, the really rather wonderful documentary about the genesis of the band and the making of their still-great-after-all-these-years debut album George Best.

That was followed by a Q&A session with none other than Wedding Present main man David Lewis Gedge himself and the documentary’s director Andrew Jezard.

Then we hot-footed it over to Kentish Town to watch the band perform as part of the 30th anniversary celebrations of their second album Bizarro.

But more of this another time, for what I know you’re all thinking is this: Jez, we all know that George Best came out in 1987 and that you were super cool by then and bought it straightaway, so what are you doing banging on about The Wedding Present here, in your series where you talk about your failures, the songs you didn’t appreciate at the time?

Good question.

Well as Richie and I stood supping our drinks, chatting and catching up, the interlude mixtape ringing in our ears, when today’s song came on.

“I love this record,” I said. “Hated it when it came out, mind.”

“You’re going to write about this, aren’t you?” Richie gently prodded.

“Probably,” I replied, “and if I do, then I’ll attribute to me anything amusing you might say about it now, of course.”

“But of course.”

Of course, today’s record also falls into that age-old category “it has no guitars on it” category, but I don’t think that’s the reason I failed to fall for it’s charms back then.

No: today’s record came out in May 1979, and I think I was probably just a bit too young to “get it”. I was 9 at the time, and frankly I was more interested in novelty pop records, Shakin’ Stevens and Boney M (I say that like they weren’t novelty pop acts) to be even remotely bothered with this.

At the time I was friends with a lad that I think must have moved away from the area shortly afterwards; certainly he didn’t go to the same secondary school as me and the rest my peers went to, and I never heard from him again.

His name was Steve Corrie, and for a summer holiday or two we spent our time riding around the local estate on our bikes. And when we weren’t doing that, he was telling me how amazing Gary Numan and Tubeway Army were, and I was looking at him blankly, utterly non-plussed.

A few years later, I had joined the ranks of Smash Hits readers; by now, apart from the odd duet with some bloke out of equally unfashionable Shakatak, the hits had dried up for Numan. He only got a mention in the pages of the Hits because he was a horrible Tory, who painted his face white, died his hair purple and wore purple lipstick, and had a pilot’s licence.

“He wasn’t even the most famous person with a pilot’s licence at the time; imagine being outdone by Noel Edmonds…!” Richie definitely didn’t say, he was too busy nodding sagely as I did.

Anyway, here’s the tune, and it is, to use what I believe is young person’s vernacular, an absolute banger:

Gary Numan & Tubeway Army – Are Friends Electric?

Although it came along many, many years later, by which time my resistance had already thawed, this, an absolute staple of the last hour of a night out at Cardiff’s Cool House club night, definitely wore down any remaining barriers.

Tip: play this loud and, as the saying goes, dance like nobody’s looking:

Feel Alive – Pure Orange feat. Shane Nelson


More soon.