Chart for stowaways – 9 March 2019

Here’s the latest album chart:

  1. Ladytron – Ladytron
  2. Jean-Michel Jarre – Equinoxe Infinity
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Planet Jarre
  4. The Future Sound of London – My Kingdom (Re-Imagined)
  5. The Radiophonic Workshop – Possum (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  6. The Prodigy – No Tourists
  7. Gary Numan – I Assassin
  8. Moby – Long Ambients 1: Calm. Sleep.
  9. The Radiophonic Workshop – Burials in Several Earths
  10. Inspiral Carpets – Devil Hopping

So it begins

Particularly observant readers amongst you might have noticed that I missed Monday’s regular post. There’s a good chance this might keep happening, unfortunately. I’ve got a whole load more posts to finish off for you, but the regular ones are likely to tail off a bit, as I’m running very low on time right now. So, sorry in advance for any upcoming intermissions!

Tony Di Bart – The Real Thing

History wasn’t particularly kind to Tony Di Bart. The singing dentist – or wait, wasn’t that Dr. Alban? He had his moment in the limelight a quarter of a century ago, as his number one hit The Real Thing was released 25 years ago this week.

Antonio Carmine Di Bartolomeo, for that was his real name, wasn’t a dentist, actually, he was selling bathrooms in Buckinghamshire. In spite of the name, he’s actually British. His short-lived musical career started with The Real Thing, originally released on 12″ in 1993 including the original mix and two low-budget remixes by Rhyme Time, and was a minor chart hit.

But then, in mid-1994, the Joy Brothers turned up and remixed The Real Thing, turning it into a fantastic piece of mid-1990s pop-dance. “If I can’t have you, I don’t want nobody baby,” sings Di Bart. Grammatically incorrect, but it’s a great catchy pop lyric, and he has a great voice – it works extremely well with the dance backing. It’s also aged pretty well, surprisingly.

It hit number one, and was a sizeable hit around Europe, but the singles that followed over the next three years performed progressively less well each time they appeared. There was, ultimately, just one idea here – a great song with an interesting dance mix – and while the Joy Brothers turned up for a second go-around on the near-top-twenty hit Do It, the big names who turned up to rework the other tracks failed to make the same impact.

After the Joy Brothers‘ version, New 7″ Dance, we’re treated to the New 7″ Radio, a bluesy version full of funky guitar work and stings. It’s not unpleasant, but honestly it doesn’t work nearly as well as the dance version, where they have stripped out all the warbling and stuck to the song.

The funny thing about Joy Brothers is that they never really seem to have done much else. Richard Lane had had some minor success as a house musician in the early nineties, but has little of note to his CV, apart from this. So this is really a one-hit wonder on many levels. The full Joy Brothers version comes next, and really is a joy to hear. Where the radio mix had been tight, while working well, this version is huge and spacious.

The pleasantly tribal house mix by Rhyme Time follows, interestingly sharing elements from Joy Brothers‘ later version, suggesting that theirs was in fact a remix of a remix. This is, I suppose, the remix that got people’s attention initially, and so maybe goes some of the way towards explaining what went wrong next – it seems he needed a strong production team around him, and for whatever reason, album Falling for You, which finally appeared two years later, failed to include the right people. Indeed, his self-produced album included a second disc with five uncredited remixes, and that’s surely the only thing most people would have been interested in?

Finally on the single comes the original Underground Mix by Rhyme Time, now renamed as 12″ Dub Mix. It’s a bouncy house dub mix, but it doesn’t really offer much of interest. With its broad organ pad middle section, it’s difficult to imagine many DJs playing it even, but who knows? That dub closed the single, and pretty much closed Tony Di Bart‘s career.

Back to bathroom sales it is, then. But it’s a shame – Di Bart showed a lot of promise with The Real Thing, and it definitely deserved its success. It’s just a pity that he was never really able to capitalise on it, and it’s disappointing that the world no longer really remembers Tony Di Bart.

Fortunately, common sense has prevailed, and The Real Thing is still available to stream or download from all major retailers, alongside another random single from 1999.

Chart for stowaways – 2 March 2019

Here are the week’s top singles:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Agenda EP
  2. Ladytron – Horrorscope
  3. The Beloved – It’s Alright Now
  4. Jean-Michel Jarre – Flying Totems
  5. The Radiophonic Workshop – Arrival Home
  6. Ladytron – Far from Home
  7. Ladytron – The Animals
  8. Gesaffelstein feat. The Weeknd – Lost In The Fire
  9. The Future Sound of London – My Kingdom
  10. Dave Gahan – Saw Something / Deeper and Deeper

History of the UK Charts – Albums

How do you define an album? Nowadays, it’s surprisingly straightforward – it’s essentially anything with a dealer price of over £3.75, but until the long-player first appeared in 1948, it would have been much more difficult to define, and so nobody really made the distinction. The earliest music sales charts were, therefore, not broken into singles, EPs, and albums, and in fact, in the 1950s, between 1956 and 1959, five long-players appear to have turned up on the singles charts that we now consider official. But in fact, by 1956, there was actually already a dedicated chart for albums.

Record Mirror

Whereas NME had launched the UK Single chart four years earlier, it was Record Mirror who gave us the first Album chart in July 1956. Their singles chart had launched the preceding year, and had already grown from a Top 10 to a Top 20 when they launched their first Top 5 Album chart.

This was the only album chart for two and a half years, always a Top 5. After that, there appears to be little record online, but it seems likely that it ran for six years in total, retiring in March 1962, when Record Mirror chose to switch to the Record Retailer charts instead.

As discussed previously in this series of posts, the compilers of the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles made a couple of decisions that might be considered questionable, but for me, none is odder than their decision to ignore the first two years of album charts. Somehow I suspect it may have just slipped their attention, but they count the Melody Maker chart as the first official chart. The Official Charts Company has now remedied this oversight, and includes the early Record Mirror charts as canonical – here’s that first ever UK Album Chart.

Melody Maker

Melody Maker had been UK chart pioneers a decade earlier, when they launched their Top Songs chart for sheet music, and in November 1958, they launched the Top 10 Albums chart. South Pacific was number one pretty much forever.

Oddly, NME never seems to have published an album chart, and few people seem to really care about the Melody Maker chart, and so unlike the early days of the UK Single Chart, the albums are largely free of controversy.

Record Retailer, and The Official Chart

From March 1960 onwards, everyone seems to agree that the canonically official Album Chart is the one published in Record Retailer, which steadily grew from a Top 10 to a Top 40 by the end of the decade. Then, in 1969, the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) took over compilation. Budget albums (nowadays defined as albums with a dealer price between £0.50 and £3.75) were intermittently allowed to enter the chart.

Also confusing is the size of the chart – Record Retailer launched their Top 10 in March 1960, quickly increasing to a Top 20, then growing to a Top 30 in April 1966, and a Top 40 later that same year. Then BMRB launched their chart in February 1969 as a Top 15, growing to a Top 30 a couple of weeks later, and then fluctuating wildly between a Top 15 and a Top 77 for the next couple of years. Both Record Mirror and Record Retailer were republishing these charts, leading to a different-sized chart every week at one point.

Finally, in January 1971, the chart appeared to have settled down to a regular Top 50, but then a newspaper strike between February and March led to no album chart for six weeks. Budget Albums then rejoined the main chart for a while in 1971.

From 1975, the chart size started to settle down somewhat, with a regular Top 50, sometimes with a few extra places published, which grew to a Top 75 in December 1978. In 1981, this grew again, to a Top 100, where it stayed until January 1989, when Compilation Albums were removed to a separate chart, and the main chart shrunk to a Top 75.

On the Radio

The album charts have a complex broadcasting history. Back in the 1970s, BBC Radio 1 was counting down highlights on Thursdays from 12.45pm, switching in the 1980s to Wednesday evenings, when Peter Powell and Bruno Brookes would take over. In October 1987, Gary Davies started counting them down on Monday lunchtimes, and then for a brief six-month stint in mid-1993, Lynn Parsons presented the Album Chart Show, an hour-long show containing highlights from top albums, which followed the main chart show.

From October 1993, this was incorporated into the official chart show at 5.30pm every week, when the top 30 albums were counted down, and a track from the highest new entry would be played.

From October 2001 to April 2007, Simon Mayo presented a new album chart show on BBC Radio 2, but this eventually dropped out too, and the chart fell off air for a number of years. Today, it’s again included as part of the official chart show, in its diminutive Friday afternoon slot.

Next time: this series is going to take a bit of a break while I research the next few, before returning to explore the lower reaches of the charts.

This series of posts owes a lot to the following sources which weren’t directly credited above:

I Monster – A Dense Swarm of Ancient Stars

If you can handle a bit of insanity, life in I Monster‘s world must be rather fun. After some initial false starts with the absurdly wonderful debut album These Are Our Children (1999), from which came the 2001 hit Daydream in Blue, which grew into the initial Neveroddoreven album in 2002, which was then remixed and “remodelled” in 2004. So it wasn’t until 2009 that we finally saw a follow-up.

A Dense Swarm of Ancient Stars is a complex offering, with strong hints of the absurdity and insanity that had peppered earlier releases, but also with a lot of musical maturity. It opens with the daft march of The Circus of Deaf, an amusingly humble title that references the early works of The Human League but takes it to another dimension entirely.

Lead single A Sucker for Your Sound follows, a beautiful song with a delightful vocal. It might not have been entirely apparent from the first track that in amongst the craziness, I Monster are entirely capable of exceptional music, but it should definitely be clear from this song. It’s every bit as good as anything on the preceding album.

There’s nothing really bad on here, but some of the tracks don’t stand out quite to the degree that you might have expected after Neveroddoreven. Goodbye Sun is one of the ones that struggles a little – it’s a nice song, and it has some fun lyrics and instrumentation – it just doesn’t quite grab you by the throat like some of their earlier tracks. In spite of including some fun impressions.

Cool Coconuts is similarly daft, a celebration of a tropical paradise in which bugs are parading up and down like the military. It’s soft and sweet, pleasant, and entirely silly, but somehow also pretty forgettable.

The same is not true of Lust for a Vampyr. When I Monster get things right, they write catchy songs with silly lyrics and pull in great vocalists, and then produce them in daft and unpredictable ways. Lust for a Vampyr is a great example of this – a catchy pop song about wanting to fall in love with a vampire, with some eccentric underground jazzy elements and Eastern European fiddle hidden in amongst the pop production. This is great.

Other tracks are less comprehensible, like Mr. Mallard. Fun, and delightfully silly, but difficult to fathom. But on the whole, A Dense Swarm of Ancient Stars is a conflicted album, the mark perhaps of something that took a long time to come together, and maybe lost its way a couple of times en route. When it’s good, it’s exceptional, but a lot of it doesn’t quite get to that level, however reserved you try to be with your expectations. So it is with She’s Giving Me the I. It’s fun, and still infinitely better than most of the things on the charts, even back in 2009, but it just doesn’t quite seem to work as a song, unfortunately.

But for every pair of tracks that doesn’t quite work, there’s a pair that does. The hilariously named Escape from New Yorkshire and final single Dear John are both great. Yes, there’s a lot of jazz in the first of them, but if you grin and bear that, it’s a pretty good near-instrumental (there’s a bit of counting and a small amount of singing towards the end, but that’s pretty much it). Dear John is a delightfully silly song about an accountant reaching the end of his tether.

If this album was a bit odd already, from this point it just gets odder. First up is the catchy and very silly Inzects, full of processed insect vocal sounds, and that blends into Inzects 2 – The Mutations. If this were a film franchise, that would be a predictable move, but it isn’t – it’s an album, and that all seems a little surprising.

Time for something more sensible? Kind of – the next trio of tracks is subtitled the Sickly Suite, and opens with the lovely How Are You?, opening up a series of beautiful songs where the silliness seems to have been toned down a little. That merges disconcertingly into the sixties-inspired Out of the Shadows, another sweet piece with complex effects and a lovely vocal. Then Gone tells us about a killer – things never stay sweet for long around here.

The film analogy works well, actually – A Pod is Waiting is heavily science fiction-influenced, as it lists out people who are about to die and explains that they’re actually going to be put into some kind of pod instead. It’s still fun, and it’s still silly too.

So is the closing track, a robot cover version of Simply the Best, which works surprisingly well. It’s an appropriate closing track for an album that’s sometimes beautiful, always fun, and eternally silly.

It would be nice to have a more contemporary follow-up from I Monster, other than the intriguing prog rock side projects that have been turning up in recent years, but maybe they said everything they want to on that front back in the decade from 1999 to 2009. It’s a shame, though – while I’m not fully sure how much I like this album, and it may not be, um, The Best, it does have some very fine moments.

You can still find A Dense Swarm of Ancient Stars from all major retailers.