649. ‘Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’, by Bombalurina

As with our last chart-topper, ‘Turtle Power’, I am fully convinced that I will hate this next #1 single…

Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, by Bombalurina (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 19th August – 9th September 1990

But wait. As with the Turtles, I might have misjudged… This starts off like a proper, early-nineties dance track. There’s a looped female vocal – Go on girl-go-go-go on girl – and a fairly shameless cribbing of ‘Theme From S-Express’ in the Spanish countdown. This is not the song I vaguely remember from school discos of yore…

Oh wait. No. It is. In comes Timmy Mallett, with a cover of Brian Hyland’s #8 hit from 1960, all about a racy swimwear item, and suddenly it is novelty trash of the calibre of ‘Agadoo’ and ‘The Chicken Song’. As with the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, Mallett was another part of my childhood, although less so, because he was on ITV and my mum kept things strictly BBC whenever she could. (Years later, a former backing singer claimed that the vocals on the record were in fact his, and that Mallett couldn’t hit a single good note…)

Except, even at its cheesiest, it still sounds like someone with a working knowledge of dance music was present in the studio as this was being recorded. It never tips over into truly unlistenable territory, with lots of knowing touches and pastiches. (Imagine my surprise to find that one of said people in the studio was Andrew Lloyd-Webber (!), who produced the record in a bet with his wife. Bombalurina is a character from ‘Cats’…) The video too does a decent, if knowing, impression of a real dance track, with buff dancers cutting shapes on a fake beach. It’s nowhere near as creepy as a video featuring Timmy Mallett and a woman in a bikini could have been…

This is the second cover of a Brian Hyland original to make #1 in just over a year. He’s a fairly unlikely figure to have had a rediscovery, but there you go. And I’m not going to go as far as to claim that this is better than Jason Donovan’s ‘Sealed With a Kiss’, but I have enjoyed it more. Which is ultimately all that matters, I suppose.

This record is more than just a summer novelty, for me at least, as I believe it to have been at number one when I started school. I can’t be sure, and it would be much more fitting for it to have been ‘Turtle Power’, but dates-wise I assume it’s this. The big question is, though: do I hate it as much as I was expecting to…? Well, the last few paragraphs have probably given it away, but no. I don’t. It’s cheese, to be filed alongside the likes of ‘Long Haired Lover from Liverpool’, and Renee and Renato’s ‘Save Your Love’. Pure drivel; but far too silly, and catchy, and most importantly tongue-in-cheek, to deny.


648. ‘Turtle Power’, by Partners in Kryme

Cowabunga! God, I used to love the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. (Not, note, the Ninja Turtles, as the word ‘ninja’ apparently had too many violent connotations for UK audiences). Strangely, though, I was completely unaware of this song. Maybe because it was from the soundtrack to the Turtle’s first live-action movie, which I’ve never seen, rather than the far superior animated TV series.

Turtle Power, by Partners in Kryme (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 22nd July – 19th August 1990

Still, I was expecting this to be a remake of the classic theme tune (Heroes in a half-shell, Turtle Power!) I was also fully expecting it to be terrible. But… It’s neither of those things. It’s an actually quite funky rap track, with a new jack swing beat and creepy organs. It sounds a little, bear with me, like Dr Dre covering ‘The Monster Mash’.

The verses tell the story of the Turtles, and how they came to be. Splinter’s the teacher, Shredder the bad guy, while April O’Neil’s the reporter. (Partners in Kryme were clearly given a remit to mention every character at least once.) It also has to set up the movie: The crime wave is high with mugging mysterious, All police and detectives are furious, ‘Cause they can’t find the source, Of this lethally evil force… Plus one stanza is given over to ‘believe in yourself kids’ motivation: So when you’re in trouble don’t give in and turn sour, Try to rely on your, Turtle Power…

According to some sources, this is the very first hip-hop track to make #1 in the UK. I’m not sure that New Edition would agree with that, or Snap!, or Soul II Soul, or John Barnes. But I get the point: those acts had elements of it in their hit singles; this is pure hip-hop. Which means that when rap properly debuts atop the British charts, it arrives spitting rhymes like: Pizza’s the food that’s sure to please, These ninjas are into pepperoni and cheese…

I genuinely expected to hate this. But I don’t. The kid in me enjoys the heavily vocodered chorus: T-U-R-T-L-E power…, and then there’s also the nostalgia factor of it being from one of my favourite childhood cartoons. Lyrics aside, I think this might genuinely hold up, in a way that not all early rap does. Partners in Kryme were a duo from New York, made up of DJ Keymaster Snow and MC Golden Voice. I’m not sure if they were formed for this record; but they had no other hits, before or after, making them a classic one-hit wonder. (The ‘Kryme’ in their name stands for Keep Rhythm Your Motivating Element. Which is catchy.)

Whether or not this really was the first hip-hop chart-topper, 1990 was certainly the year it went mainstream. Snap!, John Barnes’ rap, as already mentioned, plus this, and a skinny, Queen-sampling white guy coming up very soon. It’s certainly going mainstream, but it’s still largely seen as a novelty. We’ll have to wait a while for a ‘serious’ rap #1, but when the time does come there’ll be no looking back for hip-hop as chart-topping force.

647. ‘Sacrifice’ / ‘Healing Hands’, by Elton John

It’s amazing to think that Elton John went the entirety of the eighties without a number one single. It’s amazing to think that, twenty years into a stellar career, this was his first solo UK chart-topper. But perhaps most surprisingly, it’s amazing that this particular record was a hit at all.

Sacrifice / Healing Hands, by Elton John (his 2nd of ten #1s)

5 weeks, from 17th June – 22nd July 1990

It’s a decent enough song. Elton and Bernie could still knock out a good tune, even this far into their partnership. But it’s very middle-of-the-road, very made-for-Radio-2, very much Elton John reinventing himself for middle age (he was approaching forty-five when it eventually made #1).

And, given that this is adult-oriented soft rock, the lyrics are on a fittingly grown-up theme. Into the boundary, Of each married man, Sweet deceit comes calling, And negativity lands… Ergo, men are men, and they all cheat. I’m pretty sure he blames the frigid woman: Cold, cold heart, Hard done by you… Bernie Taupin was coming to the end of his second marriage at the time of writing, and you do wonder if that might have been an influence.

Away from the lyrics, this has all the glossy touches you’d expect of a soft rock ballad in 1990. I don’t dislike it – in many ways it’s a sophisticated piece of song writing befitting of the nation’s (second?) most prolific hit making partnership – but it also gives me the feeling of mineral water poured over ice: crisp, and clear, and pretty cold. Yet it’s lingered on in the Elton John canon, seemingly held in higher regard than I afford it, and the Cold, cold heart line formed the basis of a 2021 #1, thirty-one years on…

The flip side of this double-‘A’, ‘Healing Hands’, is a bit more lively. It’s a bouncy rocker: a little bluesy, a little gospel. It was apparently inspired by the Four Top’s ‘Reach Out, I’ll Be There’, and you can hear it in the chorus: Reach out, For her healing hands… Is it just me, or is he suggesting that God is a woman…? Anyway, it’s a great vocal performance from John and, while he gets plenty of praise for his showmanship and his presence, I’m not sure he always gets enough credit for his voice.

Again, though, it’s very mum-friendly. Why now? Why, on the verge of being a very old man (in pop star terms) did Elton score the biggest British hit of his career? We have time to ponder this as ‘Healing Hands’ meanders towards its conclusion (seriously, it has one of the longest fade-outs ever). ‘Sacrifice’ had been released nine months before, making a lowly #55. Steve Wright then started playing it on Radio 1 (crushing my Radio 2 theory from four paragraphs ago), it was re-released with ‘Healing Hands’, and the rest was history. Proceeds from the record’s sales went to four different AIDS charities, which again probably help boost sales.

We can perhaps see this record as a dividing point in Elton John’s career. Long gone were the hit-filled, rhinestoned, giant spectacled days of the seventies. The eighties had brought addiction, rehab, a doomed marriage, fewer hits… By 1990, he’d had one Top 10 single in five years. If this hadn’t caught fire, would Elton have faded into obscurity and the nostalgia circuits? Maybe that’s a stretch, but it definitely set him up for a huge career renaissance in the 1990s. Superstar duets, Disney themes, and the planet’s biggest-selling single of all time, were all about to follow…

646. ‘World in Motion’, by ENGLANDneworder

Ah yes. It’s that time again in which I, a Scot, have to write about the English National Football Team, and attempt impartiality…

World in Motion, by ENGLANDneworder (New Order’s 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 3rd – 17th June 1990

OK, there’s only been one ‘England’ #1 before: the 1970 World Cup squad’s jaunty ‘Back Home’. (Scotland, meanwhile, have cracked the Top 10 several times – they just haven’t quite made it to the top. Which is quite fitting, really, given our footballing history…) But this record is a different beast to ‘Back Home’. This is no cheesy squad singalong, about trophies and triumph. This is actually quite cool.

It helps that New Order were a very good band, the band of ‘True Faith’ and ‘Blue Monday’, and of Joy Division before that, and that they created a credible piece of dance-pop. And it helps that they tried to write a song that could stand alone if separated from its footballing context: Express yourself, Create the space… Beat the man, Take him on… And of course the chorus: Love’s got the world in motion, And I know what we can do…

Sensibly, the actual players are limited to backing vocals. Until, of course, the rap. Liverpool winger John Barnes takes over for perhaps British hip-hop’s most iconic moment, written by comedian Keith Allen (who prances around in the video): Catch me if you can, Cos I’m the England man… Three lions on our chest, I know we can’t go wrong… And then boom! Suddenly, it’s a full on football song, with Eng-er-land chanting, and canned commentary from the 1966 final. But by that point, even Scots will have given in and started tapping their feet to the best, yes I’m committing right here and now, football single ever.

The back stories to this song are quite fun. New Order initially suggested a song called ‘E for England’, which was quickly rejected by the FA for its fairly blatant drug references. Star striker Gary Lineker didn’t want to feature as he was releasing his own World Cup single, the completely forgotten ‘If We Win It All’. Meanwhile, seventy-year-old Kenneth Wolstenholme re-recorded his ’66 commentary specially for the song (making him the oldest person so far to feature on a #1…?)

‘World in Motion’ came at an interesting time for football. The Hillsborough disaster had happened the year before, and the changes to stadiums and crowd management that would come out of that tragedy were about to be implemented. Meanwhile, at the World Cup in Italy, England put in their best performance since you-know-when and lost on penalties to West Germany in the semis: Gazza’s tears, Chris Waddle, Pavarotti and all that. (Scotland, naturally, went out in the group stages.) The video is charmingly low-budget, and the players a world away from the well-groomed, tattoo-ed, sculpted lads of today. It’s an interesting glimpse of a sport that I cannot quite remember, just two years before the Premier League/Champions League explosion.

But, that’s a story for a different blog. Musically, this was New Order’s only #1, though they scored eight Top 10s between 1983 and 2005 (including the best-selling 12” of all time). They were, still are, hugely influential and as fun as this record is, it’s somewhat bittersweet that it’s their biggest chart hit. And sadly, ‘World in Motion’ has since been relegated to the second division of football songs, behind a far more obnoxious, entitled, and frankly (without giving too much away) insufferable single from six years later…

645. ‘Killer’, by Adamski

The first word that comes to mind as this next number one begins is ‘lumbering’. Like Godzilla trampling Tokyo underfoot, the beat here is heavy, and relentless…

Killer, by Adamski (his 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 6th May – 3rd June 1990

It’s a fourth consecutive dance #1, and each one has done something slightly different within the genre’s confines. ‘Dub Be Good to Me’, ‘The Power’, ‘Vogue’, this. They’ve all had one thing in common, though: pretty low bpm. There have been moments, while listening to each one, in which I’ve wondered whether you could do much dancing to them. The early ‘90s was the height of rave culture in the UK, of people off their tits and mad for it in a field in Hampshire, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it by listening to the most popular dance tracks of the time.

While ‘Vogue’ well and truly warmed up after a slow start, I’m not sure if ‘Killer’ ever quite rises above its plodding beat, decorated with creepy synth effects that sound like aliens trying to broadcast to the mothership. There’s a moment in the middle where some choppy trickery with the vocals turns them into a sort of dance Morse Code, and this kicks things into life. There’s a more traditionally ‘dancey’ piano riff after that, and a moment where you think this might be turning into a banger. But it doesn’t quite manage it.

Solitary brother… I like this line… Is there still a part of you that wants to live…? Again, not your run-of-the-mill dance lyrics. And while we should applaud strangeness, and creativity, and so on; it doesn’t mean that I particularly enjoy this record. I’d file in under ‘interesting’, rather than ‘fun’.

The vocalist was an at the time unknown bloke called Seal. (So unknown that the Official Charts didn’t credit him on the single, which seems a bit harsh.) He’d been a funk and soul singer in Britain and the Far East, and was sleeping on a friend’s sofa when he met DJ and producer Adamski, handing him a demo tape. The rest is history, though nothing he did after his big breakthrough hit has the same oomph. He went back down the smooth soul route, and along the way recorded one of my least favourite songs of all time: ‘Kiss From a Rose’. (It just gives me goosebumps, and not the good kind…)

What’s ‘Killer’ about, though? The lyrics, written by Seal, are an exhortation to freedom and to transcending whatever holds you back, according to the man himself. That sounds more like M People than this weirdly ominous record, while Adamski meanwhile thinks it sounds like the soundtrack to a movie murder scene. It ends with a message: Racism in amongst future kids can only lead to no good… Which is worthy, but which means the record ends on a strangely sombre note.

Seal released his debut solo album later that year, and has gone on to sell twenty million records around the world, and to marry Heidi Klum. Adamski, meanwhile, scored a #7 with the follow-up, before fading from popular view. He still records though, and tours as a DJ.

Of the past four number ones – the spring of dance, I’ll call it – I’d have ‘Vogue’ as my favourite, closely followed by Beats International. But I’d have ‘Killer’ in third, ahead of Snap! It’s a very odd song, an uncomfortable, edgy record; but there’s greatness there, buried somewhere deep. Up next, an act that are undoubtedly dance music pioneers, the daddies of all this electronic business, and one of the most influential bands of the 1980s… With Peter Beardsley.

Pet Shop Boys – Best of the Rest

Time for a ‘Best of the Rest’ rundown for one of the most consistent hitmakers of the eighties and nineties. In fact, Pet Shop Boys’ run of Top 10 hits spans exactly twenty years, from their first #1 ‘West End Girls’ in 1986, to 2006’s ‘I’m With Stupid’.

Neil and Chris were a bit short-changed, for my money, in terms of their chart-toppers. Far worse acts have had far more than just four number ones… But, I’ve said it before and may as well say it again, the chart gods are fickle. Here then are PSB’s ten biggest non-number one hits. Unlike similar posts I’ve published in the past, I’m not ranking them – this is all based on cold hard chart-positions. It’s just ‘Highest Charting of the Rest’ as a title doesn’t have quite the same ring to it…

‘Before’ – #7 in 1996

Perhaps not the most instant PSBs track, ‘Before’ was the lead single from their sixth studio album, ‘Bilingual’. There’s a hook there, in the cooing synth line, and a chilled mix of disco and nineties dance. The brief for the video, meanwhile, was clearly to aim for ‘peak 1996’, years before people had though of ‘peak’ anything.

Can You Forgive Her? – #7 in 1993

It’s very Pet Shop Boys to make love sound like a panic attack. You’re short of breath, Is it a heart attack…? It’s both compulsive and threatening, with nice brassy synths. It’s not hard to read a subtext in the lyrics about a woman making fun of a man who prefers disco to rock, and who claims that’s she’s off to find a real man instead… Another striking video, that I imagine looked very impressive at the time.

‘Domino Dancing’ – #7 in 1988

As we’ve seen from our regular rundown, the mid-to-late eighties saw a mini burst of Latin-tinged pop. PSBs got in on the act for the lead single from their third album. I think the guitar and Spanish rhythms mixed with with their regular synths works well, but Neil Tennant sees it as the end of their imperial phase (as well as failing to break the Top 5 in the UK, ‘Domino Dancing’ was their last Top 20 hit in the US). The video features two ridiculously handsome (and permanently topless) twinks competing for the attentions of the same girl, before giving up and wrestling one another on a beach. Rolling Stone described it as ‘probably the most homo-erotic pop video ever made’, and it’s hard to disagree…

‘Absolutely Fabulous’ – #6 in 1994

La-La-Lacroix, darling… A charity single next, for Comic Relief. Lines from the sitcom of the same name are stitched around a thumping techno beat, as Neil Tennant does very little apart from intone Abso-lutely fa-bulous… over it all. It’s an pastiche of the big eighties and nineties dance hits – ‘Pump up the Jam’, ‘Ride on Time’, ‘Rhythm of the Night’ to name a few. Techno, Techno, Bloody techno darling… Few charity singles manage to be this catchy and remain (relatively) funny, so it’s a shame that this has been all but forgotten, even if the duo don’t recognise it as an official single and have never featured it on a Greatest Hits. Strange fact: this was PSB’s highest-charting single in Australia.

‘It’s Alright’ – #5 in 1989

A thirty-five year old song about dictators in Afghanistan, and forest falling at a desperate pace… Glad we’ve made progress since then, huh! To me this sounds like Pet Shop Boys-by-numbers. Nothing wrong with it, but not a patch on their greatest singles.

‘How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously?’ / ‘Where the Streets Have No Name (Can’t Take My Eyes of You)’ – reached #4 in 1991

This bitchy number – with lines like: You live within the headlines, so everyone can see, You’re supporting every new cause and meeting royalty – is about the pomposity of pop stars in general. Or is it about someone in particular…? Neil Tennant claimed later that it was about a ‘female pop star from 1989’. Make of that what you will… It features guitars, which is rare for a PSBs single.

It was paired with two covers – U2 and Frankie Valli – melded into one soaring disco anthem. An early form of the mash-up, both songs work well with a churning dance beat and Tennant’s ethereal vocals.

‘So Hard’ – reached #4 in 1990

Another atypical love song, about a toxic relationship in which both parties make it so hard for ourselves… Tennant’s vocals rarely break a sweat, there are some wonderfully dated ‘barking dog’ synths, and a low-key gem of a chorus. ‘So Hard’ was the lead single from their fourth album, and the video is set in the wonderful city of Newcastle. It apparently features Paul Gascoigne’s sister Anna, as well candid clips of Geordies out for a night on the toon.

‘Left to My Own Devices’ – #4 in 1988

Everything great about the PSBs in a just under five-minute edit: a dramatic string intro giving way to a pulsing disco beat, NT’s trademark deadpan delivery, lyrics that are as camp (I could love you, If I tried, I could, And left to my own devices, I propably would) as they are pretentious (Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat). Oh and, of course, you can dance to it.

‘Go West’ – #2 in 1993

The mark of a good cover is that you no longer imagine it being performed by the original artist. The Village People took their version, inspired by an old rallying cry used to spur pioneers to head out into the great unclaimed (apart from by, you know, the natives…) American West. PSBs kept most of the original, including the chord progression based on Pachelbel’s Canon, but added lots of glorious other things: horns, a male voice choir, a big female diva (posing as the Statue of Liberty) taking it home at the end. They originally covered it for an AIDS charity concert, then decided to release it, scoring their biggest hit in five years. We can assume the video was inspired by the breakdown of the Soviet Union, with lots of sturdy Russian-looking men heading towards a ‘promised land’. The CGI is so dated that it now looks like a brilliantly judged attempt to be retro.

‘What Have I Done to Deserve This?’ (with Dusty Springfield) – #2 in 1987

I’m not ranking these, but it just so happens that the best is saved for last. For not only do we have Pet Shop Boys in their imperial, huge hits without even trying, phase… (Coincidentally, Neil Tennant is credited with first using the phrase ‘imperial phase’ to describe an artist at the peak of their powers.) Anyway, I digress… We also have Ms Dusty Springfield! Almost two decades into a career slump, filled with alcohol and drug abuse, as well as abusive relationships. Despite this, the sixties diva remained a star, initially turning the duet down because she hadn’t heard of the PSBs. A couple of years later, after hearing ‘West End Girls’ on the radio, she agreed. Neil Tennant was a huge fan, and pushed for her inclusion, despite their label wanting someone less ‘washed up’.

Dusty also took twenty or so takes before she was happy with her vocals. But when she was happy, her voice became an integral part of an ’80s classic. When she comes in for the chorus, slightly raspier but still Dusty, after Tennant has dead-panned the first verse, it’s a goosebumps moment. The song itself is perhaps of its time, a comment on society in the Thatcher-Reagan years: You always wanted a lover, I only wanted a job… It’s also a very subversive number, every bit as gay as ‘Relax’, just less in-your-face, with the lesbian Springfield and the gay Tennant playing a very odd couple.

This record came agonisingly close to the top, peaking at #2 in both the UK and the US. It also sparked a late-career renaissance for Dusty. Tennant and Lowe would go on to produce her comeback album ‘Reputation’ in 1990. She died from cancer in 1999. Pet Shop Boys continue to record and perform to great acclaim, almost forty years later.

644. ‘Vogue’, by Madonna

What’re you looking at? snaps Madonna at the start of her seventh, and perhaps most iconic number one. You of course, Madge. You.

Vogue, by Madonna (her 7th of thirteen #1s)

4 weeks, from 8th April – 6th May 1990

At this point, Madonna was hitting at a rate of one #1 per year. 1989’s chart-topper, ‘Like a Prayer’, gave us Madonna the shocker, the church baiting provocateuse. 1990’s chart-topper was the other side of her coin: Madonna the trend-setter, the cultural chameleon (or bandwagon jumper, if you’re not a fan…) For she was off to the ballrooms of Harlem…

‘Vogueing’ as a dance movement had grown there during the 1980s, among black and Latino gay communities. The sudden, sharp movements were supposed to be an impersonation of Egyptian hieroglyphs, or of a star changing poses in a photoshoot for, yes, ‘Vogue’. Madonna had been introduced to it by her own dancers and choreographers. (*Insert complaints about Madonna milking the gay community for her own commercial advantage* Not that I’d at all agree: this was perhaps the start of ‘gay’ culture going mainstream, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and Madge has always been open about her support of LGBTs.)

Like ‘The Power’, the record it replaced at the top, ‘Vogue’s slick house rhythm doesn’t sound instantly danceable. But it creeps up on you, until two minutes in you realise that you’re shimmying. The tinny drums that lead up to each verse and chorus are very Hi-NRG (dare we say, very SAW?) and the short sharp horn blasts keep you on your feet. By the time she yells the Get up on the dancefloor! line, you’re there. Meanwhile the lyrics are fairly generic dance: Let your body move to the music… You’re a superstar, That’s what you are… etc. etc.

Of course many people at the time, unfamiliar with gay ballroom culture, would have assumed that the title referred to the fashion magazine. Madonna nods to that too, in the spoken word section, as she lists various women with an attitude and fellas who were in the mood from Hollywood’s golden age, on the cover of a magazine. And, just in case this record wasn’t gay enough, it includes the line: They had style, They had grace, Rita Hayworth, Gave good face…

Unlike ‘Like a Prayer’, ‘Vogue’ isn’t from a classic album. It’s the final track, tacked on to ‘I’m Breathless’: the soundtrack to the prohibition-era movie ‘Dick Tracy’. The follow-up single was the ridiculous ‘Hanky Panky’ (nothing like a good spanky!) But ‘Vogue’ has long-outlasted both album and film, to rank alongside Madonna’s very best songs. Whereas I didn’t enjoy listening to ‘Like a Prayer’ as much as I thought I would; the past hour has brought me to realise just how good ‘Vogue’ really is.

Believe it or not, this is the last we’ll be hearing from Madonna for eight whole years. She only has two #1s in the 1990s (while she has as many in the ‘00s as she managed in the ‘80s). Not that she’s going anywhere: aside from those two #1s, the decade will bring her a staggering twenty-two Top 10 hits, including four #2s. And ‘Vogue’, a number one in thirty countries and to date her biggest-seller worldwide, kicked it all off.

643. ‘The Power’, by Snap!

The spring of 1990 truly was an age of interesting intros. Well, I don’t know if two songs quite make an ‘age’, but following on from Beats International’s famous rap, our next #1 kicks off with a burst of Russian LW radio. Something something transceptor technology…

The Power, by Snap! (their 1st of two #1s)

2 weeks, from 25th March – 8th April 1990

Then boom: a riff that sounds like an electric shock, and (another) dance diva with big lungs bellowing about having the power. So far so famous, a hook that pretty much everyone of a certain age knows. Unfortunately, the less-remembered remainder of the song struggles to match the energy of the title line.

It’s much lower-tempo than you’d think: I’d mis-remembered it as a madcap ride, akin to S-Express, but it’s nowhere near as fun. There’s a rapper – in fact this might be the most rap-heavy chart-topper so far, at the start of the decade in which hip-hop will finally go mainstream. Turbo B has a couple of good lines: Maniac, Brainiac, Winnin’ the game, I’m the lyrical Jessie James… and a real clunker: So peace, Stay off my back, Or I will attack, And you don’t want that… While Penny James, the female lead, has a voice that contrasts with him well.

Both the rap and the vocals were based on earlier songs, by a Chill Rob G and a Jocelyne Browne respectively, and for a while it seemed there might be lawsuits on the horizon when the producers tried to use the originals without permission. The record was quickly re-recorded by Turbo B and James, inadvertently setting up Snap! as an actual band with a hit making future rather than a one-hit wonder.

There’s another good moment, when the electric shock riff takes over and performs a bit of a solo; but for me, as a whole, this record struggles to build up a head of steam. I can’t imagine dancing to it, unlike recent dance bangers from Black Box and Beats International. Snap! (note the Wham!-like exclamation mark) were a German creation, and I get “Boney M for the ‘90s” vibes, what with their nationality, their take on Eurodance, and the questions over whose voices you’re actually hearing… (Though both Turbo B and Penny James were American.)

‘The Power’ was Snap!’s first release, and they would go on to have an impressive nine further Top 10 hits between 1990 and 1994. So popular were they that their fifth single was a medley of the previous four, which still made #10. And while this record may not reach the heights of ‘Ride on Time’, you could argue that it was just a warm-up for Snap!’s globe-humping second, and definitive, chart-topper: one of the biggest dance records of all time. Until then, then…

642. ‘Dub Be Good to Me’, by Beats International

Tank fly boss walk jam nitty-gritty, You’re listening to the boy from the big bad city, This is jam hot…

Dub Be Good to Me, by Beats International (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 25th February – 25th March 1990

I often find writing intros to be the hardest part of a new post. Not today: for who can argue with those opening lines? Jam hot, indeed. (Not that I have a clue what he’s on about, but hey ho…) Off we go, then, into a #1 single a little less intense than ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, but perhaps every bit as iconic (that word again…)

If you listen carefully, both this record and Sinéad O’Connor’s predecessor follow a similar beat. It’s very nineties, as if both these records were setting the tempo for the decade to come. Other than that, though, they’re very different beasts. ‘Dub Be Good to Me’ takes us for a stroll through the backstreets of the big bad city. The laconic harmonica sounds like a train rumbling past, the horn towards the end sounds like a sad busker, the humming break in the middle sounds like the crazy guy you’d cross the road to avoid…

Meanwhile, you can just picture the singer walking along with a ghetto blaster, singing the title line: I don’t care about your other girls, Just be good to me… Like Soul II Soul and Black Box before it, this record is a more modern, stripped-back version of dance music, another step away from the sample-heavy culture of the 1980s. Just a beat, that harmonica, and a female diva giving it large (Lindy Layton, who in some places gets a ‘featuring’ credit on the record).

Not that ‘Dub Be Good to Me’ doesn’t contain a sample, or two. Actually, it’s pretty much all samples. The lyrics and melody come from The SOS Band’s 1983 song ‘Just Be Good to Me’. The bassline is the Clash’s ‘Guns of Brixton’, the harmonica is from Ennio Morricone’s theme for ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, and the catchy intro rap is called ‘Jam Hot’, and is by Johnny Dynell. I know that for some sampling is a sin, that music should always be original. But it takes a special ear to hear music from acts as disparate as The Clash, Morricone, and a little-known rapper, and spot a number one hit lurking among the noise. And, unlike some recent dance hits, all the samples seem to have been cleared and consensual, with no subsequent legal battles for Beats International.

For the record, I have no problem with sampling. The more imaginative, the better. Sometimes you’re maybe left with a hot mess. But this record is a masterclass in sampling various pieces into a very smooth, very cool piece of music. Beats International were the brainchild of Norman Cook, whom we last met playing bass for The Housemartins. To say that Beats International were a musical departure for him is something of understatement, but I’d also say that there’s a cheeky, indie ethos to both acts. Beats International are described on Wiki as a ‘loose confederation’ of DJs, rappers and musicians, as well as a graffiti artist who would paint as the band played on stage.

They weren’t around for long, as after two albums they disbanded (they did get one Billy Bragg sampling follow-up Top 10 in the wake of their biggest hit). Cook moved quickly on to form another band, ‘Freak Power, before going it alone as Fatboy Slim. We’ll meet him again before the decade is out. Back in 1990, though, we’re left with a cool and funky glimpse of things to come. And it’s jam hot…

641. ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, by Sinéad O’Connor

Just four weeks, and three number one singles, into the new decade and the 1990s have their first iconic moment…

Nothing Compares 2 U, by Sinéad O’Connor (her 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 28th January – 25th February 1990

First things first, I hate overuse of the word ‘iconic’. Yass! Slay! Dresses are ‘iconic’, memes are ‘iconic’, everything’s bloody ‘iconic’. But I think the term is valid here. From the sustained opening note, to the Orwellian opening line: It’s been seven hours and fifteen days… the song grabs you, makes you sit up and listen.

And that is pretty much all down to Sinead O’Connor’s vocal performance. She hits every note perfectly – the soft ones, the angry ones, the ones you don’t expect. Some favourite lines: I went to the doctor, And guess what he told me, Guess what he told me… or All the flowers that you planted mama… Or the way Nothing can take away these blues… hits a really bluesy note at the end. To tell the truth, without O’Connor’s heroics, with a different, less committed singer, this could be a flat, maybe even dull song. The synths are slow, the beat is steady, with a trip-hop edge that will become ubiquitous as this decade goes on.

The most famous of her vocal tricks has to be the key-change in the title line: No-Thing compares, To you… It’s the one hook that ultimately sells the entire song. But we can’t pretend that this song did well on vocals alone. There’s the famous video, another iconic aspect of this whole business (I promise that’s the last time I’ll use that word), in which O’Connor remains in close-up, her face strikingly cat-like, head shaved, a tear rolling down either cheek. (The tears were unplanned, and brought on by the ‘mama’ line, her mum having died in a car crash several years earlier.)

‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ was famously written by Prince, though his version was never released. O’Connor’s version was also famously disliked by its author, perhaps because it outperformed pretty much every song he ever released. It was #1 in thirteen countries, and Top 10 in countless others, overshadowing everything that she has done since. I’d never heard the Prince original, which was finally released in 2018, and it’s nowhere near as good – cluttered with fiddly guitar and a wild sax solo, completely missing the sparse beauty of this definitive version.

Is it surprising that this song did so well? I say that because it is unremittingly miserable: the singer counts down the hours since her break-up, listing all the things that won’t help her get over her loss, all the flowers that have wilted since. And yet, I asked a silly question, really. All the best ballads aren’t about love; they’re about lost love: ‘Without You’, ‘The Winner Takes It All’… Misery hits home. It’s the hopeful, positive ones that often lack an edge: ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You’, or ‘Hello’, to name but two.

Sinead O’Connor wasn’t a complete unknown when this, the second single from her second album came out; but none of her earlier, or her subsequent releases, made the Top 10. Her career in the US ended abruptly when she ripped up a picture of the pope on ‘Saturday Night Live’ as a protest against child abuse in the Catholic church, and she has courted controversy in statements about her sexuality, her religion, and her views on Irish politics. She is an eccentric, a contrarian, one who is hard to define. Except everyone can agree that her biggest hit kickstarted the 1990s, and remains one of the decade’s most iconic (sorry) songs.