Friday, 8 November 2013

The Best Of 1998 - part 1

JUMP TO: 100-76 II 75-51 II 50-26 II 25-1

What a great year 1998 was - for me, anyway. I'd finished my university studies at the end of 1997 and, in May, set out on what would be a two-year working holiday in Europe. Cliché, I know - but it was the trip of a lifetime.

Before she became a credible actress, Billie was a teen pop sensation

By November 1998, I was living and working in London and, chart tragic that I am, I'd spend most Sunday afternoons listening to the UK top 40 being counted down on Radio 1 - a decade after I'd done the same thing as a teenager in Australia. No more trawling magazines and websites to find out what was going on in British music - I could finally hear it as it unfolded every week.

Naturally, my top 100 songs from 1998 are packed with tracks I discovered during my time in Europe, so let's get on with it, shall we?

Number 100 "For An Angel" by Paul van Dyk
Originally released in 1994 as German trance DJ Paul van Dyk's debut single, "For An Angel" got another lease of life in 1998 and became one of the year's biggest club hits, even if it didn't have much mainstream impact (it reached number 28 in the UK). That's not the end of the story - but let's move to the song at number 99, which has an important link to "For An Angel"...

Number 99 "Lover" by Rachel McFarlane
Rachel, of course, had been the featured vocalist for one of my favourite dance acts of the mid-'90s: Loveland - and here she was with a solo record, which only managed a peak of number 38 in the UK. The link to the Paul van Dyk song at number 100? "Lover" and "For An Angel" were mixed together for bootleg mash-up "Found An Angel". The 1998 version of "Lover" doesn't seem to be on YouTube, so I've linked to the 2005 revamp instead.

Number 98 "Ray Of Light" by Madonna
Previously featured here

Number 97 "Dreams (Todd Terry mix)" by The Corrs
Genetically blessed (well, the female members of the group anyway) Irish quartet The Corrs had enjoyed a fair bit of success in Australia before 1998, but it was this track which finally broke them in the UK. And, like Everything But The Girl's career turnaround in 1995, it was all down to remixer Todd Terry. And Fleetwood Mac, of course.
The Corrs had already released three singles from second album Talk On Corners before their cover of the 1977 track by The Mac stormed the UK top 10. Talk On Corners was swiftly re-released with updated versions (thanks to remixers K-klass and Tin Tin Out) of "What Can I Do", "So Young" and, for good measure, 1995's debut single "Runaway" added to the tracklisting and released as singles.

Number 96 "One, Two, Three / Livin' For The Weekend 98" by Dina Carroll
Some female singers in the '90s (Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton, Deborah Cox) routinely released slow and fast versions (in some cases, slow to fast versions) of their songs to cater to all markets. BRIT Award winner Dina Carroll instead continued her ploy of teaming a ballad with a club track with this double A-side release.
"Living For The Weekend" (with the 'g' still intact) had originally appeared on 1996's Only Human, but it was given a remix by Canny - and is by far the stronger of the two songs. Meanwhile, "One, Two, Three" was intended to be the first single from her third studio album, but those plans were put on hold when "One, Two, Three" stalled at number 16 in the UK and... well, we'll pick up the story in my 1999 countdown.

Number 95 "She Wants You" by Billie
She may want to forget about her pop star past now, but as a 15-year-old, Billie Piper broke UK chart records when her first two singles, "Because We Want To" and "Girlfriend", went straight to number 1. It wasn't until this third single, which traded in shouty teen attitude for a slicker pop sensibility, that I paid any attention. Thankfully, "She Wants You" - and not those other two hits - was a sign of things to come from Billie in the next couple of years.

Number 94 "The Word Is Love (Say The Word)" by Voices Of Life
A collaboration between producer/remixer Steve "Silk" Hurley and vocalist Sharon Pass, this track is also the last time Steve hit the US or UK chart under his own steam. The upside? This was one of the tracks responsible for Steve receiving his first Grammy nomination for Remixer Of The Year at the 1999 ceremony (only the second time the category was awarded). He lost out to David Morales, who we'll see later in this countdown.

Number 93 "You're The One For Me" by Preluxe featuring Clive Griffin
The song was an old 1982 funk track by D-Train, the featured vocalist appeared on my 1989 countdown with "Be There", and the trio of producers who comprised Preluxe were Brothers In Rhythm's Steve Anderson, and Jon Pearn and Michael Gray (who also collaborated as Disco Tex and Sex-O-Sonique). At the time, however, I didn't know most of that and just liked the song.

Number 92 "Real Good Time" by Alda
For a second, Iceland produced another internationally successful female solo artist in the form of Alda Ólafsdóttir, who reached the UK top 10 with this jaunty ditty. One other hit single, "Girls Night Out", followed and that was that for the blonde dreadlocked singer - but it was fun while it lasted.

Number 91 "Ridin' High" by Tracy Shaw
Teaming up with producers Mike Stock and Matt Aitken had once been a guaranteed path to pop music success for soap actors - but, by 1998, Coronation Street star Tracy Shaw didn't have much luck with either of the two cover versions she recorded with two-thirds of the Hit Factory. Her first attempt was a rather lifeless version of Lonnie Gordon's "Happenin' All Over Again" which rightly sank without a trace. Second time around, she tackled the lesser known 1994 single by Serena - and while Tracy's version of "Ridin' High" did improve on the original, it didn't give her a hit and she went back to concentrating on her day job of playing hairdresser Maxine Peacock in the UK soap instead.

Number 90 "Sylvie" by Saint Etienne
They'd scored their biggest hit in 1995 with the Motiv8-produced "He's On The Phone", but it was back to the quirky indie pop for this first single from the Good Humor album. The original version was good, but it was the dance version by remixers du jour Trouser Enthusiasts which transformed the song into a hands-in-the-air club anthem. You can listen to that version by following the link in the song title above, while the video is below.

Number 89 "I Think I'm Paranoid" by Garbage
One of the only rock bands I liked in the '90s was back in 1998 with album number two, called Version 2.0  - and while the singles weren't quite as good as on their self-titled debut, songs like this, "Push It" (number 101 on this list) and "Special" (number 137) proved that first album had been no fluke.

Number 88 "Looking For Love" by Karen Ramirez
I mentioned Everything But The Girl earlier, and here we have their influence on the music of 1998 once more. This time, it was their 1993 track "I Didn't Know I Was Looking For Love", getting the remake treatment. While British singer Karen's vocal was reasonably similar to EBTG vocalist Tracey Thorn's performance, the production was more in line with the Todd Terry version of "Missing" than the folkier original version of the song.

Number 87 "Nobody Better" by Tina Moore
The reinvention of US singer Tina Moore's "Never Gonna Let You Go" (which we saw on my 1997 countdown) was such a success in the UK, that another track from her 1995 album was given a 2-step overhaul by Kelly G. The song wasn't as big a hit, but it was another radical reworking that breathed new life into the original.

Number 86 "Straight From The Heart" by Doolally
2-step, or UK garage, was really taking off in 1998 - and although I didn't get into other key tracks, like MJ Cole's "Sincere", or "Gunman" and "Kung-fu" by 187 Lockdown, I was a fan of this song from the duo who'd go on to call themselves Shanks & Bigfoot. "Straight From The Heart" just scraped into the UK top 20 in 1998, but would reach even higher on re-release in 1999, following Shanks & Bigfoot's runaway success with "Sweet Like Chocolate".

Number 85 "Superstar" by Novy vs Eniac
Individually, they were responsible for some massive club hits in the '00s, but back in 1998, German producers Tom Novy and Eniac collaborated on a series of singles - and this was the best of the bunch.

Number 84 "I Put A Spell On You" by Sonique
Her breakthrough international success was still a couple of years away - but 1998 was the year the DJ/singer born Sonia Clarke first released "It Feels So Good" as the follow-up to this track. Sonique was by no means the first act to perform "I Put A Spell On You", which had originally been recorded by Screamin' Jay Hawkins back in 1956, and made famous by the likes of Nina Simone and Creedence Clearwater Revival in the 1960s - but it was the first version I'd liked. The former vocalist with Bass-o-matic and S'Express (whose first solo single had been released as far back as 1985) did crack the UK top 40 with her take on "I Put A Spell On You", but the song would go all the way to number 8 in the wake of the success of "It Feels So Good". 

Number 83 "No Tears To Cry" by Whigfield
Yes, Whiggy was still around in 1998 - and, if anything, her songs got better once she moved on to her second album, Whigfield II. That's right, like Chicago, Led Zeppelin and Seal, many of Whigfield's albums were self-titled and numbered - possibly the only time the Danish pop star had anything in common with those other artists.

Number 82 "Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth" by The Dandy Warhols
Before their songs were used in car ads and teen dramas, indie rock band The Dandy Warhols gained attention with this catchy tune about drug use - complete with a technicolour clip (directed by David LaChapelle) featuring choreography on hospital beds, a hearse and a game show-style reveal of a toilet. Fun!

Number 81 "A Little Bit" by Pandora
We saw her back on my 1994 countdown with debut single "Trust Me", and four years later, this single (released in 1996 in her homeland of Sweden) became a top 10 hit in Australia for Pandora. As I mentioned, I was in Europe at the time, but, thanks to the wonders of the internet and the ARIA website, I did keep tabs on what was charting back home.

Number 80 "My Favourite Game" by The Cardigans
Here's another Swedish act, who'd become world famous thanks to the inclusion of "Lovefool" on the soundtrack to Romeo + Juliet a couple of years earlier. "My Favourite Game" was a rockier song than the twee "Lovefool" and was the lead release from the First Band On The Moon album.

Number 79 "All I Need" by Air
There were two albums that were inescapable in 1998. One was Air's Moon Safari and the other was Big Calm by Morcheeba, who we'll see in Part 2. You were pretty much guaranteed that any shop you walked into that year would be playing one or the other - and they both became instant classics in the booming chill-out genre. French band Air had more recognisable songs in the shape of "Sexy Boy" (number 156 on this list) and "Kelly Watch The Stars" (number 180), but it was "All I Need" that was my favourite.

Number 78 "Teardrops" by Lovestation
Mentioned in Part 3

Number 77 "Love Is Alive" by 3rd Party
Things I didn't know about this song before now: 1) it's a cover of a track by prog rocker Gary Wright and is as radical as remake as The Party's version of "In My Dreams" we saw back on my 1992 countdown; 2) 3rd Party's main vocalist, Maria Christensen, was also a member of Sequal, who featured on my 1989 countdown with "Tell Him I Called". What I did know was that 3rd party were three-piece girl group that recorded one album, Alive, which also featured the original version of Jennifer Lopez's "Waiting For Tonight".

Number 76 "Uh La La La (Almighty mix)" by Alexia
Things I didn't know about Italian singer Alexia (real name: Alessia Aquilani) before now: 1) she'd performed with Eurodance acts Double You and Ice MC before launching her solo career with the Fan Club album; 2) she's married to Giorgio Armani's nephew. "Uh La La La" was the fourth single from Fan Club - and became the first to cross over to the UK chart in 1998 after an upbeat mix by masters of handbag, Almighty. That year also saw the release of her second album, The Party, which featured "The Music I Like" (number 131 on this list) and "Gimme Love" (number 172).

In Part 2, the arrival of one of today's biggest rappers - with a song he'd probably rather forget - and a singer who turned an incident most would have tried to forget into a hit song.

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