Friday, 1 January 2010

top of the noughties pops

Top of the noughties pops: Can Bob Stanley listen to every No 1 song from the noughties and escape with his sanity intact? He recalls a musical decade that ranged from the sublime to the very ridiculous
There's no rule that New Year's resolutions have to be joyless, or involve financial or calorific sacrifice. With the end of the decade 12 months away, I vowed to spend 2009 listening to the No 1 singles of the noughties every day, one a day, in chronological order. Glancing at the charts from some weeks reminded me of the record shop scene in A Clockwork Orange, with its chart on the wall full of queer, invented names. Worse yet, a few of these seemingly imaginary singles were among the No 1s I had to listen to. Rui Da Silva's Touch Me? Had I even heard it, maybe unwittingly in a cafe or a taxi? It turned out I hadn't.
That may seem like an odd admission from someone who theoretically earns a living wage from writing about pop music, but I doubt many could hum – or even recognise the titles of – every No 1 of this decade. Do you remember some of the acts who can now stroll into their local and claim that, if only for seven days, they outsold Girls Aloud, Madonna, and the Beatles? Can you recall not just Rui Da Silva, but Black Legend, Tomcraft, Fatman Scoop, Petey Pablo, and Meck? Or should I say Meck featuring Leo Sayer – that might ring a distant chime of doom. You may remember some, or most, of their chart toppers*. But blink, or let your gym membership slide, and you missed them.
In 2000, there were 43 no 1 hits; in 1967 there were only 15. Before 2006, when downloads were added to physical sales in the calculation of chart positions, there were plenty of records that would fly into the top 10 one week and die spectacularly the next. The most extreme example was McFly's Baby's Coming Back which debuted at No 1 and dropped to 20 the following week. The combination of these seven-day wonders with the demise of Top of the Pops meant it became easy for even a reasonably alert pop fan to be completely bypassed by even No 1s. During the first three years of the decade, only five records stayed at the top for more than three weeks: Atomic Kitten's Whole Again, Kylie's Can't Get You Out of My Head, Enrique Iglesias's Hero, Elvis Presley's A Little Less Conversation and Girls Aloud's Sound of the Underground. Ritalin manufacturers must have been having a field day.
- Guardian, 17 December.

My journey led me to discover that knocking late period Oasis is less easy when Lyla and The Importance of Being Idle are listened to alongside Stereophonics' Dakota, Pussycat Dolls' Stickwitu, and Busted's Crashed the Wedding, rather than straight after Definitely Maybe.
A happier result of my journey into populism is a new fascination with music from the year 2000. This was something I'd imagined over and over when I was a small child, weaned on the space race. In 1974, while Terry Jacks half bored me and half frightened me with the singalong death ballad Seasons in the Sun, I imagined how I'd look in the year 2000 (married, two kids, semi in Purley, moustache) and how the first No 1 of the new century would sound. I knew it would be electronic, and may involve a certain amount of silver lurex. Instead it was Seasons in the Sun by Westlife. As it turned out, Rui Da Silva's Touch Me – the first No 1 of 2001 – actually nails it. The sound of the future had arrived in that most cosmic of years, exactly as it might have been imagined by Stanley Kubrick: spacy, disembodied, oddly beautiful. Now, this future sound is almost 10 years old.
The vast number of seven-day wonders in the early half of the decade meant that you had a better chance than before of getting to No 1 with a great record – ordinarily there would be an Engelbert or Joe Dolce blocking the door. Although there were singles that joined Ultravox's Vienna in the "unfairly denied the top slot" corner – Daft Punk's One More Time (kept off by Leann Rimes's Can't Fight the Moonlight), Pink's Get the Party Started (George Harrison's death pushing My Sweet Lord back to the top) and Kelis's Milkshake (stuck at second base for a whole month thanks to Michelle McManus's All the Time and then LMC's Take Me to the Skies Above) – it was also true that only the genuinely great have hogged the top spot this decade. Rihanna's Umbrella (10 weeks) and Gnarls Barkley's Crazy (nine) were the chart leviathans, infinitely more exciting than 90s heavyweights Bryan Adams, Whitney Houston and Wet Wet Wet.