THE MAGIC NUMBER - April 1998
|"When you get a Number One," sang
Adam Ant on Here Comes The Grump as his career plunged dumperwards in 1982, "the
only way is down." And nowhere is that truer than in the UK pop business. After
all, the only thing us Brits, famously, like more than building 'em up is knocking
'em down again, and once someone's hit the top, we get an inbred genetic sense
that they've gotten too big for their boots and need bringing down a peg or two.
(Cornershop, you feel, are next in line to taste the nation's ire, after riding to
the top spot on Norman Cook's big beat coat-tails, only to arrogantly and unwisely
spring the hippy-dippy version of Brimful Of Asha on an unsuspecting TOTP audience and be
promptly offed in favour of - the ignominy - a near-unprecedented second spell
of Celine Dion.)
So how to retain that all-important air of underground, outsider chic, while still becoming a sickeningly wealthy pop star? Simple. Get stuck at No.2. Think about it - Number One is, by definition, the province of the dull, everyman mainstream and the novelty hit. Who could possibly be less cool than Joe Dolce (Shaddap You Face), Jive Bunny, or Keith Harris And Orville? Maybe only Gary Numan, or possibly Robson and Jerome, who share the distinction that their first two singles both crested the summit, leaving them with nothing but the certainty of an ugly fall from grace to look forward to. But the indie underachiever ethic of the 80s has also been discredited, with even second-rate clone outfits like Embrace and Travis loudly proclaiming their desire to be "the biggest band in the world". So what's a band to do? No.2 is the perfect solution.
Number One is the first step on the inevitable road of champagne and coke that leads bands into flabby, overindulgent rock ruin (see Oasis - unimpeachable until the mighty Some Might Say broke the glass ceiling, then the record-breaking credibility haemorrhage that's seen them become the 90s Simple Minds in 12 months flat). If you want to be loaded AND loved, the plucky runner-up spot is the smart place to be.
TOP FIVE SINGLES THAT PEAKED AT NO.2
Common People (Pulp) - held at bay by the aforementioned Robson and Jerome, what better metaphor could there ever be for Jarvis' misshapes-and-misfits creed?
A Design For Life (Manic Street Preachers) - a monster anthem, but cunningly retained credibility by having gangs of pissed-up blokes completely missing the irony in the singalong chorus.
God Save The Queen (The Sex Pistols) - the establishment never did the Pistols a bigger favour than swindling them out of this No.1, granting them an extra 20 years of rebel cred (until the reunion tour).
Tubthumping (Chumbawamba) - another Marxist rabble-rouser, the fact that this never reached the top despite being unavoidable for half of the year was perfect conspiracy fodder for anarchists everywhere.
Wonderwall (Oasis) - realising their mistake with Some Might Say, the band tried desperately to save their skins with a No.2, but made the fatal error of releasing a Bryan Adams-style power ballad that everyone's granny loved, and the game was up.
TOP FIVE BANDS WHO NEVER HAD A NO.1, AND HENCE STAYED COOL FOREVER
The Stone Roses