1 FIRESTARTER (Prodigy)
Now this, I have to confess, took me completely by surprise. Whilst the first new single from the Prodigy in well over a year was always going to be an immediate hit, few could have predicted it would be quite this big. Liam Howlett and Keith Flint first released a Prodigy single in the summer of 1991. That single was Charly, one of the first hardcore rave records to cross over, and cross over it did, hitting Number 3 and becoming one of the bestsellers of the year. Since then the Prodigy have notched up a string of nine straight Top 20 hits with tracks such as Out Of Space and No Good (Start The Dance). Their time appeared to have passed, however, with last year's Poison becoming their smallest hit ever when it could only peak at Number 15. This new hit turns things around completely. After dominating dancefloors for several months in one form or another, its commercial release charges straight to the top of the charts to become one of the most hardcore dance records ever to reach Number One in this country. It also yet again extends the string of records that have now gone straight to Number One, this now incredibly the tenth consecutive chart-topper to do so. The once unthinkeable feat of outselling all other singles in your first week on release now has no real meaning any more. It makes for a frantic and unpredictable chart, but in all honesty I would rather have this than Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men at the top for the best part of four months [as had been the case in America since the end of the previous year].
2 THE X FILES (Mark Snow)
More surprises still. In a week of chart phenomena Mark Snow crashes in just behind the Prodigy to make this only the sixth time ever that both the Number One and Number Two slots are occupied by new entries. The X-Files probably needs no introduction to most people, the American TV series based around two paranormal investigators which has quickly become one of the most popular imported TV shows in the country. Of particular note is Mark Snow's haunting theme music which has become something of a hit in the clubs, mainly due to its relaxing, calming effect. Warner Brothers have thus released the track and it explodes onto the charts, overtaking the Rembrandts' I'll Be There For You as the most successful TV theme of the 1990's and equalling the 1987 Number 2 peak of Jan Hammer's Crockett's Theme - the last time an instrumental TV theme made the Top 3. It is something of an instrumental chart with Robert Miles' Children just one place below it. The last time there were two totally instrumental hits in the Top 5 was way back in September 1977 when Magic Fly by Space and Oxygene by Jean Michel Jarre were at Numbers 3 and 4 respectively.
4 HOW DEEP IS YOUR LOVE (Take That)
Their reign is over. The final Take That single follows in the footsteps of their last hit Never Forget and plummets from the top of the charts in a straight fall from 1-4, just as Spaceman did a couple of months ago too. Whether RCA records decides to milk their newly released Greatest Hits collection and re-release one of their earlier singles remains to be seen, either way the current chapter of pop music has just drawn to a close. [No, this would indeed be their last appearance in these pages for a decade. And then came the most extraordinary pop comeback of all time].
7 NAGASAKI EP (I NEED A LOVER TONIGHT) (Ken Doh)
[Ken Doh - Nagasaki. Geddit?] When not dancing to the Prodigy, clubgoers across the country have been going mental to this track. I Need A Lover Tonight first appeared around last October as an instrumental and has now had a throaty vocal track added for this commercial release. It has turned the track into a rather fine pop record, reminiscent of The Original and BT. A big hit was assured given its current popularity.
9 WALKAWAY (Cast)
Cast are now well-established hitmakers, this being their fourth Top 20 hit in succession and the second in a row to reach the Top 10. Walkaway falls just one place of January's Sandstorm, which is really just about the only negative thing you can find to say about it. Not since Crowded House has there been an act simply beyond criticism.
11 STEPPING STONE (PJ and Duncan)
The images of TV characters PJ and Duncan and the TV presenters Ant and Dec are by now so readily interchangeable that there is speculation that the pair will leave their Byker Grove days behind and revert to their real names for future record releases. After four Top 20 hits in 1995 the lads kick off their 1996 chart career with their first cover version. Stepping Stone has one of the more astonishing chart histories of any contemporary hit song. It was first recorded by the Monkees back in 1966 and appeared on the b-side of I'm A Believer. The next act to pick the track up were none other than the Sex Pistols and the track duly became their last hit single whilst they were (sort of) together, peaking at Number 21 in 1980. The track then became something of an anthem amongst indie bands in the early 1990's recorded by The Farm amongst others. PJ and Duncan's new version, complete with Monkees pastiche video gives them their tenth Top 10 hit.
15 STARS (Dubstar)
It is dazzlingly appropriate that this hit should have a stellar theme as Dubstar clearly are the rising stars of the year. Following their breakthrough proper with the delightful Not So Manic Now the band re-release one of their earlier hits. Stars was first released in July last year when it could only reach Number 40. Now of course it is all but guaranteed a high chart placing, and so it turns out as the pretty record charges into the Top 20 to give them their biggest hit to date. It only leaves two questions - just exactly what is the thing on the cover of their album [it was a pencil case, anything else is just your dirty mind] and did I really have the courage to leave the first sentence of this paragraph exactly the way I first wrote it?
16 MORNING (Wet Wet Wet)
Earlier this week I played one of Wet Wet Wet's first hit singles Wishing I Was Lucky on the radio. It gave me cause to consider once more just what a career the Glasgow soulsters have had. Nine years ago they were one of the big teen sensations of the day with one flash of Marti Pellow's smile likely to reduce my classmates of the time to a quivering wreck. In 1996 they are well-respected chart stars and consistently turn out records that are virtually guaranteed to become hits. This track is no exception, following on from their four Top 20 hits last year and becoming their sixteenth to reach this high. Interestingly enough this is not the first time Wet Wet Wet have writen a song about mornings, 1992's High On The Happy Side album contained a track called Brand New Sunrise which sounded fabulous but was never considered for release as a single.
17 SLEEP (Marion)
The third Top 40 hit for bright young hopes Marion and easily their biggest so far, following in the footsteps of Let's All Go Together which made Number 37 in October last year and Time which made Number 29 in February. In the light of recent Top 10 successes for Menswear and Shed Seven who is to bet that Marion's next hit single is not heading that way too.
19 SATELLITE (Beloved)
Ladies and Gentlemen please be upstanding for the third coming of the Beloved. The origins of the band are by now legendary. In the mid 1980's Jon Marsh placed an ad in the music press inviting anyone who wanted to do something "gorgeous" to meet in a Covent Garden cafe three years from that date. He was met at the time by Steve Waddington and together they made the Happiness album which spawned a number of small hit singles and became one of the essential soundtracks of 1990. The band next appeared in 1993 with Waddington having been ditched for Jon Marsh's wife Helena. The combination of the two gave them their biggest hits ever, most notably Sweet Harmony which peaked at Number 8 in January that year and whose totally naked video incidentally produced one of the most hysterical Beavis and Butthead commentaries ever.. but I digress [that was actually a very funny moment]. Now the pair are back with a new album and a new single to trail it. Satellite does little more than develop on what has gone before... a dreamy spaced out pop single that is clearly designed to have 'play me whilst having sex' written across it.
23 WALK LIKE A CHAMPION (Kaliphz featuring Prince Naseem)
Sheffield rap band Kaliphz are big fans of local lad 'Prince' Naseem Hamed, easily one of Britain's brightest young boxing stars. In recognition of this fact they recorded a track in tribute to him but decided a good finishing touch would be to have the man himself contribute a verse or two. Hamed has quickly become notorious for his brash, arrogant stage manner but is actually quite a genuine bloke at heart and so despite reservations about his talent for rapping he agreed to contribute. The resultant track is this, a half-decent novelty single that has at least a bit of credibility attached to it. The last boxer to have a single in the charts was former Middleweight champion Nigel Benn whose Stand And Fight made Number 61 in December 1990. This does of course overlook national treasure Frank Bruno who had a single chart under his own name just before Christmas - but given that his contribution to Eye Of The Tiger was to have fought the match whose commentary featured on the single that can hardly count
25 THE SECRET VAMPIRE SOUNDTRACK EP (Bis)
[A fairly significant new entry which was missing from my original notes and indeed the first version of this column I submitted. On the Monday morning I emailed over an addendum in a panic having accidentally skipped this single. The reason it was so important to mention? This one and only hit single for Bis came as a result of their Top Of The Pops performance of Kandy Pop which made them the first ever completely unsigned act to appear on the show. Long term it did their career little good, but it remains a particularly notorious moment. The exact text I wrote remains lost to history sadly].
27 ARE YOU GONNA BE THERE? (Up Yer Ronson featuring Mary Pearce)
As a Leeds man myself, I have to make the humble confession that I have never been to Up Yer Ronson. The club is currently one of the hippest in the city and its DJs are local celebrities and well-known nationally. They have been making records for a while now and have featured several times on the current plethora of DJ mix compilations that are all the rage at the moment. They first hit the Top 40 in August last year with Lost In Love which reached Number 27. Now they reappear with vocalist Mary Pearce in tow with a cover of an old underground house tune first recorded by Shay Jones in the late 1980s. [Up Yer Ronson helped kick start the careers of a number of big names with the likes of Dave Pearce and Brandon Block all having enjoyed residencies there. I don't think there was anyone well known behind the hit records though, it was just a branding exercise].
28 LANDSLIDE (Harmonix)
A Top 40 debut for Harmonix with this curious instrumental dance track based around a facsimile of the synthesiser introduction to U2s Where The Streets Have No Name - I kid you not. [One of those ideas which sounds barking on paper but which made for one of the most inspired early trance hits].
29 ONE MORE CHANCE (Madonna)
A worrying sign as Madonna's acoustic ballad takes a spectacular tumble from its Number 11 entry point last week. As I speculated at the time, this marks the first time she has ever had two successive tracks peak outside the Top 10 in her entire career. Could Maddy's reign as the Queen of Pop be ultimately coming to an end?
34 TISHBITE (Cocteau Twins)
Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie have had a quiet couple of years, having not released a single since 1994's Bluebeard. Hence we have been deprived of their unique sound but fortunately the gap has not changed them one bit - but then again when does it ever? The new single is just what you would expect from one of the most enduring of all the 'alternative' acts of the 1980s, a gorgeous ethereal track that takes many listens to appreciate properly. By charting, Tishbite becomes what is only their fifth ever Top 40 hit - they have never had much singles success, their biggest hit ever being their debut Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops which staggered to Number 29 in April 1984.
35 DANGEROUS MINDS EP (Aaron Hall/DeVante/Sista)
The world of film arrives in the charts once more with this trio of tracks lifted from the film from which the EP takes its name. Such a move is actually quite unusual - rather than issuing the tracks in isolation the three are combined in an offshoot EP. Such a practice was common in the 1960s when EPs had their own separate chart and it was not uncommon for films to produce hit singles, EPs and LPs. Not that this matters, the three tracks together sound great. They are in turn, Curiosity from Aaron Hall, Gin and Juice from DeVante and It's Alright from Sista.
37 I'LL BE THERE (99th Floor Elevators/Tony De Vit)
The second hit single for the Elevators and Tony De Vit. This new track follows on from their Number 28 anthem Hooked from August last year.
39 NOT GON' CRY (Mary J Blige)
Forgive me if I fail to get excited about the apparently endless stream of hit singles lifted from the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack but they are all starting to merge into one Babyface produced mush. Following Whitney's two hits and Brandy's Sittin' Up In My Room comes this track from Mary J Blige. The lady herself had the best year of her career in 1995, notching up no less than four Top 30 hits, the biggest of which was her cover of You're All I Need To Get By which reached Number 10 back in July.
40 THE WEDDING (Cliff Richard featuring Helen Hobson)
Current publicity shots of Sir Cliff show him as few of his fans could ever have envisaged, grim and stubbly as he inhabits the persona of Heathcliff in his own production of 'Wuthering Heights'. He has released two singles from the accompanying album already: Misunderstood Man which peaked at Number 19 in October last year and his duet with Olivia Newton-John Had To Be which reached Number 22 just before Christmas. Now the third single appears, the kind of track which sounds literally as if it is lifted from a West End musical. Actress Helen Hobson becomes the eighth person to sing a chart duet with the first Knight of pop in his long and distinguished chart career. The Wedding is as pretty and as twee as the concept behind it suggests. It is of no matter, your Granny will probably love it.