hyso? Well, it obviously looks quite nice numerically. Number tens are also a godsend for the music trivia bore, because they can casually toss out questions like “So, what was Supergrass’ first top 10 hit?” and then laugh in the faces of whoever says it was “Alright”. In another way, number tens can be handily used as scapegoats by proper music types for keeping superior songs out of the top ten (pulling one out at random, “Mr E’s Beautiful Blues” got held down by… “Stay With Me Baby” by Rebecca Wheatley. She was in Casualty). Number tens, on the other hand, can be a source of unexpected joy for those that make it: going “top ten” = crack open the bubbly!; going to #11 = “encouraging”. You can’t brag about getting to number eleven, because everyone’ll cuss you for not going top ten but desperately clinging to the number eleven slot like it’s actually the same thing, except that numbers prove that it rather isn’t. Number ten is scraping in by the fingernails, but most crucially it is scraping in, which is enough to make it a prized position of sorts, albeit one that no-one ever quite remembers.
Which leads us to this list, the construction of which has been, quite frankly, A Bit Dodgy. I decided to restrict the parameters (i.e. songs whose peak in the UK Singles Chart was #10 from September 1994 onwards) because I quite like a bit of that “sleep” fad that’s sweeping the nation. There were 158 qualifying songs. I’m pretty sure I haven’t heard all of them. In the interests of thoroughness, I should have. In the interests of me, there’s no way I’m sitting through four bloody Bon Jovi songs that even their fans didn’t bloody like enough to get any higher than number ten. Ones I genuinely had no idea about, I found and listened to. And yet… I dunno. It’s difficult, really, because you have to ask yourself under what criteria songs qualify for the list other than how much you like them. So there’s plenty of notable omissions here, some quite staggeringly shameful, others less so. There was one stage where I looked at what I’d whittled it down to and considered writing for Q. Anyway—after a fair amount of wrangling, what follows is what I decided I could satisfactorily put forward as my Top 10 Number Ten Singles Of The Past Ten Years:
10) THE CORAL – Don’t Think You’re The First
And so, somewhat inevitably, the number ten position was improbably tricky to decide because whatever you put here is the one you have to justify the most in the face of the omissions. This position has changed hands many times: “Lenny”, “Airwave”, “Falling Into You”, “Army of Me”… but eventually, I realised that it just had to be this. The number ten, in theory, is the song that takes the most flak. What we need here is something that just had no business whatsoever getting this far up the charts. Something that no-one, at all, could possibly explain being at number ten. No other record fits that like “Don’t Think You’re The First”.
Now, if this had been The Coral’s previous hit, “Dreaming Of You”, then you could understand—a two and a half minute skiffle rattle, lovely harmonising, super-catchy chorus, rather entertaining video, just generally a bloody great single. But no, that got to #12 five months prior. “Don’t Think You’re The First”, on the other hand, served the primary function of announcing that The Coral had somehow acquired a licence to print money. They walk like Egyptians for four minutes with no discernible change in tempo or pitch or anything at any point. There is no beginning, middle or end. There are, however, occasional “flourishes”, bits of flute, guitar twangs, squeaks and such, and they’re rather nice. James Skelly sings some actually quite decent anti-romantic lyrics (“Don't think you're the first, in the whole universe / To follow your heart or gaze at the stars / To stare at the night through the clear daylight / Don't think you're the first, in the whole universe / To feel sorrow or shame as you walk in the rain”) over the top of this steady backbeat rumble. There’s an instrumental bit somewhere in the middle that takes up the melody of his vocals, then it’s back to the man in the cagoule again. It’s actually a really good song, but in no way shape or form the kind of thing that one would imagine hitting the top 10, or possibly even the top 40. You wait and wait and wait for the “big bit”. What the hook gon’ be? Actually, no, there isn’t going to be one. It’s in here anyway, though, if only because of all the top 10 hits of this past decade, it must be the least explicable by some way. Plus which, The Coral have had six top 40 hits, and only two (this and “Pass It On”) ever made the top ten. And still no-one’s going to remember “Don’t Think You’re The First”. Just put it on, listen, and think: “This is a top ten single.” Weird, innit?
9) MASSIVE ATTACK – Teardrop
So you remember when I said I thought the list was getting a bit Q earlier? Well, what I meant by that was a lot of stuff had made it into the final reckoning seemingly based entirely on reputation, including this. Initially, I left it out. But I was wavering, wavering all over the place—so I found it and listened. It wouldn’t be bloody denied, would it? Their only top ten hit and a peculiarly uneasy listen. The opening shudder jars like anything—you expect there to be some kind of intro beforehand, but it’s straight there, the tectonic drop into the clamminess, the almost-harpsichord sounding piano clanks, and in the midst of it all the ghost of Liz Fraser, winding through the machinery and the grease and grime, utterly lost, occasionally calling out and finding nothing in the dirge. It’s very dark, very disorienting and very good.
8) SHAGGY – Hey Sexy Lady
And no, I’m not taking the piss, and I wasn’t when I suggested Celine Dion earlier either. This one here isn’t here to fuck with your preconceptions, it’s not here because I’m trying to be clever, it’s here because I Rather Like It. Honest. Swear to god. Putting it simply, Shaggy goes flamenco. A staccato, bullfighting stomp runs through the whole song, as Shaggy staggers and stutters along, grumbling about precisely how hot Sexy Lady is making him, headaches, sweating—“she really put it on, I had to write a song…” The chorus is great, all Zorro-style trumpets as the Gold brothers holla back “HEY SEX-EH-LEY-DEH! I LIKE YOUR FLOW!” At one point Shaggy exclaims “Ya drivin’ me nuts!” You can’t really tell if he’s gone for the pun or not. You don’t really care. The best R Kelly song that R Kelly had nothing to do with—even better than the R’s own #10 smash, “Snake”, in fact. Big Tigger is good, but the moment where Shaggy wants to say “HI!!!” is just that much better.
7) SCISSOR SISTERS – Comfortably Numb
The idea that the Sisters—not the most mainstream of concerns up till that point—had a shot at the top 40, let alone the top ten, seemed like the stuff of dreams way back in January. One minute, they were all supporting Zoot Woman at the Bar Academy an’ shit, and the next, they’re keeping the Offspring and Maroon 5 out of the top ten in the quietest week for singles sales thus far this year. Back then, of course, they really did seem like the most exciting thing in the whole wide world, back before they started getting incessantly used in jingles for bloody 6Music (Phill Jupitus doesn’t give a shit, why should you?), big summer festivals and Sanatogen or whatever, and decided to put “Take Your Mama” and “Mary” on their album instead of “Electrobix” or “Someone To Touch” or... oh, never mind. “Comfortably Numb”, the Scissors cover of a Pink Floyd song I’ve still not quite been arsed to hear and create this peculiar little thing, described as “disco” because the bass was quite loud and it was made using proper instruments. Initially, it felt like their weakest song, but the more you hear it, the more you learn to appreciate its idiosyncratic little charms, based around the slightly-too-long intro, the slapped beat, and those electro flourishes every now and then, the handclap noise, the piano-house-esque burbles on the chorus, that “poh-pa-poh” interlude about a minute or so in… for a band that delight in making things seem easy, this feels like them at their most relaxed, most natural even. “Comfortably Numb” never has to try too hard, all the elements just float in and out again with ease. The highlights, the individual spots all pass by with quite improbable blissfulness. It’s just really rather lovely.
6) SIA – Taken For Granted
The only one-hit wonder in this list, and as such probably the song on this list most likely to have been forgotten by you. Sia Furler is an Australian singer who, in recent years, has probably become better known for her work with fellow one-hit wonders Zero 7 (she sang on their only hit single, “Destiny”, which only made #30. Then again, their last album got to #3, so they do sort of win). But before all that, she had this little beauty, based around a string sample that I can’t remember the provenance of—it goes “dee-nuh, nee-nuh, dee-nuh, nee-nuh, dee-nuh, nee-nuh, dee-nuh, nuhhh”, if that helps. Starts off like that, then the hip-hop bass starts up, and the two don’t quite fit together, jolting and skipping along. There’s a bit of “Wicked Game” style guitar splashing in the verse too… sorry, I’m describing the interviewee’s laugh again. Basically, a super-lightweight summer hit, the skipping beat underpinning Sia’s nonchalant drawl about her man standing her up. Her lyrics get a bit fiddly at times, “I’m truly sick to death of all these sleazy men undressing me with their eyes” being a particularly clumsy example, but it’s that beat, the scrape of the strings and the skip of the bass carrying it along brilliantly. Natasha Bedingfield or whoever would kill to have something this good to their name.
5) PET SHOP BOYS – Miracles
I’ve already extolled the virtues of this to a fair ol’ degree on this website (#13 here and #10 here). However, it occupies a rather natty little place in this particular list. Firstly, the new entry it kept out of the top ten was Enrique Iglesias’ horrendous drug-metaphor-a-thon “Addicted”, which entered right behind it at number eleven. Secondly, Pet Shop Boys fans were genuinely quite surprised that they still had it in them to get into the top ten, after the singles off previous album Release failed to do so. It might also have been because the singles in question weren’t that good, somehow indicative of some kind of creative falling-off… and “Miracles” was bloody great. Sensitive, sweet and sincere in a way that you rarely see that high up the charts these days, eschewing mawk and sentiment for awe and wonder, without the need to overdo or overstate things, just Neil Tennant sounding utterly content. Subtle, suave, superb.
4) MOLOKO – Familiar Feeling
As has been pointed out on a few occasions, Moloko are something very special indeed, the experimenters who can conjure up hits from up their sleeve like it’s no trouble at all, then put those hits on their albums next to stuff like “Being Is Bewildering”, for instance, and it sounds utterly natural. They burst into the mainstream via a dance remix of one of their singles and then stayed there. They made what they described as an “acoustic house record” (The Time Is Now) and it not only didn’t sound like M People but was in fact utterly brilliant in its own right. “Familiar Feeling” only made #54 in my singles of the year list. This is because I am a muppet. It’s a beast, sort of the collation of everything that’s gone before in this list and yet so much more than that too—it’s got the flamenco guitar styles, the big string samples, the continuous plucked riff, the wailing into nothingness, and the knack of being one of those songs that just sums up falling impossibly in love not just in the lyrics, but in the sound and the taste and the touch and the smell and the atmosphere, the opening minute the circling and swaying, bass frantic as hell, the light guitar hurtling along silently in the back, this headrush building up to the explosion of chorus, Roisin “By Christ but she’s fantastic, isn’t she?” Murphy interrupted from her coasting by this phalanx of backing vocalists on the “EV-ER-SPEA-KING!”, the whole song this dance of delight and entrancement until the big moment, just Roisin and the bass, “I’ve felt this feeling before… is it deja-vu?...DO I SOMEHOW KNOW YOUUU?” as the whole thing falls in on itself then roars back again, the chorus and the instruments all running away with themselves to the finish line… oy vey. Oy vey. Research shows I’m the only Stylus writer to have ever mentioned this lot. This cannot continue.
3) ALL SEEING I ft. TONY CHRISTIE – Walk Like A Panther
Like Moloko, the I came from Sheffield and found themselves in the charts somewhat unexpectedly in the late nineties, with them covering “The Beat Goes On” and getting to #11 in March 1998. They then found themselves trying to come up with a follow up to it. They did so ten months later by resurrecting Seventies lounge man Tony Christie and getting Jarvis Cocker to write a song for him. It works perfectly. Christie’s intense melodrama makes him sound like the bitterest old man alive, as he spits out his disgust at his woman’s new lover (“A halfwit in a leotard stands on my stage”), the city he lives in (“The old home town just looks the same, like a derelict man who has died out of shame, like a jumble sale left out in the rain—it’s not good, it’s not right”), and the youth of today (“So where did you leave your self-respect? You look like a reptile, your house is a wreck, your existence an insult, and stains that are suspect coverrr your clooothes…”). His every syllable drips drama and grandeur, overacting like no-one’s business, and you can just tell he’s in his element in the chorus, the way he wrings out the r’s on “Feeeeaarrrr,” “Teeeeearrr,” and “Neeeearrrr” like he’s out on the cliffs and the thunder and lightning is lashing down all around him and his gold lamé blazer (all the time the rain miraculously avoids him, obviously)… he didn’t want to go on Top Of The Pops to perform it, so Jarvis Cocker filled in. It didn’t work. “To keep up with me you’ve got to walk like a panther tonight.” I don’t really know what it means, but I wouldn’t dare disagree.
(P.S. I have been noticing copies of the All Seeing I’s Pickled Eggs and Sherbet album cropping up in the bargain bins of second-hand record shops quite a lot recently. Go and rescue them. They’re very much worth it.)
2) EELS – Novocaine For The Soul
The top ten had a funny old time of it in February 1997. It started with “Beetlebum” replacing White Town at #1, then getting knocked off by LL Cool J covering “Ain’t Nobody”, which lasted a week before being replaced by U2’s “Discotheque”, which was itself removed a week later by “Don’t Speak”. There were top 5 hits for The Orb, Placebo, Depeche Mode, Mark Owen and Warren G (covering “I Shot The Sheriff”), and top 10s for Michelle Gayle, Mansun, Blue Boy, Daft Punk and Apollo Four Forty (“Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Dub”, for some reason).
That month featured two number tens. One was Barbra Streisand & Bryan Adams duetting on “I Finally Found Someone”. This was the other. We won’t be mentioning Barbra & Bryan again.
“Novocaine For The Soul” is a record that it seems utterly inappropriate—perhaps impossible—to compare to anything else. It’s an introspective piece, a self-destructive piece, perhaps a slightly self-pitying thing… and sounds very little like any of that at all. It sounds very little like anything else at all, and yet sounds simple and obvious at the same time. You could compare it to “Hey Ya!” in that respect, I suppose… except that, well, it just feels somewhat silly. But it’s very like that, sounding a bit like other stuff, but not enough for one to confidently say that it sounds like it. Unique in a very quiet, subtle kind of way… said that too much, never mind, onward.
The intro. The jazz band drums on the shellac. The film noir strings. E mutters. Then you’ve got your… god, it really does feel wrong calling them MTV guitars, but it’s how they sound, isn’t it? And yet it isn’t at all. Certainly this is hardly a lo-fi record, it’s on Dreamworks after all, but where the guitar twang might not sound out of place in the “quiet bits” on a record by Bush or whoever, this definitely doesn’t sound or feel like that at all. “Novocaine For The Soul” is an angry song, but it’s more melancholy than anything else. In the video, them floating above the ground feels right and in keeping with the song. The bit at the end where they land and then walk off all nonchalant and shit doesn’t. Eels are not fucking Nickelback.
I’ve been listening to it on loop for the past half an hour now looking for the key to it. The hook line is “Before I splutter out.” The best line is “Life is white / And I am black / Jesus and his lawyer / Are coming back.” There’s the bit where he sings “Oh my darling, will you be here?” and it sounds like the eeriest thing ever. There’s the pauses, the multiple cutting in and out of the instrumental tracks, the stop-start nature of the song that leads to the perpetual air of uncertainty, the ever-present glockenspiel tinkling and the bit where everything else cuts out and it’s just the glockenspiel, almost mockingly left on its own like you’re being tortured by the Intel jingle at random intervals. “Teardrop” is good, but “Novocaine For The Soul” is just out of this world. You can even sort of dance to it, I suppose. This is what is referred to as “the hit single”. On one level, it sounds like “the hit single”. On most other levels, it really doesn’t. Nothing I say will ever quite do it justice.
1) PULP – Something Changed
And so we arrive at the end. Have we learnt anything? Any common threads? Any links? Well, it looks like I’ve gone for the number tens that you wouldn’t necessarily have expected to get to number ten, the one-off smashes, the unexpected triumphs, the peculiar breakthroughs, the grand comebacks, and “Hey Sexy Lady”.
And the list finds itself topped by the one record out of this pile you’d have banked on getting into the top ten, and quite probably finding itself at number ten as well. Back in 1996, as you doubtless remember or have been told, Britpop was king. I’ll spare you the Blur and Oasis, mind, and give you some slightly more telling statistics. Two months prior to “Something Changed”, The Bluetones got to #2 with “Slight Return”, and got held off the top by Babylon Zoo. Between August 1996 and April 1999, Suede had an uninterrupted run of six top ten singles. Northern Uproar had three top 40 singles. In September 96 The Charlatans had their first top ten hit since 1990. Ocean Colour Scene had three top ten hits in 1996 alone. Putting it simply, 1996 was a very good time to be British, a bloke and have some other blokes around you that had some guitars and drums (and maybe a keyboard if you were feeling a bit edgy).
Pulp joined in too. The year before they’d had back-to-back #2’s, those being “Common People” and “Mis-Shapes/Sorted For E’s and Wizz”. “Disco 2000” got to #7 in December 1995. In March 96 their early singles compilation, Countdown, reached #10 in the albums chart. Pulp were money in the bank for their label, so they could quite happily squeeze a fourth single off the album and know it would do well, and “Something Changed” duly did.
I’m telling you this because I want to make it exceedingly bloody clear that “Something Changed” is about ten billion times better than those paragraphs make it sound. How many times have you heard people say that Pulp were the only decent thing to come out of Britpop? How many times have you nodded sagely and agreed? How many times have you stood back and just been stunned by “Common People”? How many times have you been told and retold the story about Jarvis farting at Michael Jackson? How many times have you thought to yourself that people really don’t talk about This Is Hardcore enough? How many times have you heard Jarvis Cocker’s lyrics and just been blown away by how simple the man makes it look? How many times have you wished there were more like him? How many times have you cringed when people have tried to be like him?
And in all that time… how many times have you thought about “Something Changed”? How many times has it crossed your mind, when people mention Pulp or Different Class? I’m gonna take a wild guess you can probably count it on your fingers. You see, there’s two things people forget:
1) Pulp were the best thing to come out of the other side of Britpop, along with “Forever” by The Charlatans and “Gangsters” by The Longpigs;“Something Changed” is a fucking amazing love song. The very instant I spotted it in the list of number tens, I knew nothing else would be topping this list. “Something Changed” is the love song you can believe in, because quite apart from being a fantastic lyricist, hyper-charismatic frontman and half-decent singer, Jarvis Cocker is a man you can believe in. No-one else at that time had that. Jarvis did. Jarvis let you in, Jarvis let you know. He was wise, funny, articulate and clever, but he was never ever ever aloof or apart. He was honest. Incredibly honest. On This Is Hardcore he got scarily honest, and people ran away.
2) Jarvis Cocker writes fucking amazing love songs.
On “Something Changed,” the honesty was sweet and beautiful. The honesty was sweet and beautiful because yes, life can be and will be shit, but there are moments when life is beautiful as fuck. You have had those moments. We have all had those moments. It’s easier to talk about the moments of unifying despair, and god knows Pulp definitely do that a fair bit, but the moments of unifying happiness don’t tend to get discussed so much because they get hammered and bashed out so often into mush, slush and sentiment, vague stabbings by indie boys that just ring hollow, songs that sing about “shining” or whatever because it’s what the Roses did. Like when pop groups talk about being up in the club or whatever to try and show that they’re fucking normal or whatever, and you listen and just know it’s utter bullshit.
“Something Changed” is nothing like that. “Something Changed” runs on pure hope. Cocker writes this song two hours before they’ve met, hoping that this will be the one. He isn’t sure, though, and frets about the ways it might fail – “I could have stayed at home and gone to bed, I could have gone to see a film instead – you might have changed your mind and seen your friend…”
And then he balances it with the ways it might not fail, the ways it’ll turn out like he hopes and prays it will: “Why did you touch my hand and softly say, “Stop asking questions that don’t matter anyway, just give us a kiss to celebrate here, today—something changed.”
We are left to wait and see how it’s turned out. Pulp don’t tend to go for the happy ending. Is it despair? Is it glory? Or does it all end with the guitar solo and the instrumental break?
“Oh when we woke up that morning, we had no way of knowing that in a matter of hours we’d changed the way we were going… Where would I be now? Where would I be now? if we’d never met… would I be singing this song to someone else instead? I DON’T KNOW…
“But like you just said…
I like hope. And that’s why I love “Something Changed” like nothing else.
By: William B. Swygart
Published on: 2004-09-20