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The Novelty Is Wearing Off, 90s Edition! Still More of The Oddest Songs In UK Chart History

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Here we go again, wending our way back to the 1990s:

The decade of Grunge!

Britpop!

G-Funk!

Neo soul…

There’ll be none of that. Our best of the worst, the weird and the out there begins with a 70s callback:

Smokie Featuring Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown.
Who The F*** Is Alice?
#3 – 1995

I’ll tell you who Alice is. She’s the next door neighbour that the protagonist has been lusting at from afar for 25 years. It’s not difficult, it’s explained in the song. 

Turns out pedantry isn’t as much fun as gratuitous swearing in a drunken crowd. 

You may recognise the bits between the profanity.

“Living Next Door To Alice” was a hit around the world in 1976, including making #25 in the US.

I have no idea why it was still being played in bars across Europe in the early 90s, but it took on a new life as a crowd participation staple. The references to Alice being greeted with the shout; “Alice? Alice? Who the f*ck is Alice?”

Dutch dance act Gompie capitalised on this first with “Alice (Who The X Is Alice?),” but Smokie reclaimed it taking it to new levels. Eventually. It was a slow burn success, taking six months to enter the top 40 and climb to #3. 

The featured artist, doing the job of the crowd is comedian Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown.

His look suggested eccentric buffoon; leather flying helmet, goggles and colourful patchwork suit. Whereas his shtick of pre-enlightenment disparagement of any sensitive subject was direct from the past. His way with an expletive did make him the ideal fit when kept on message though.  

Prime time TV wasn’t ready for vociferous questioning of Alice’s backstory, so Top Of The Pops appearances had to be adapted to: “Who the bleep is Alice?”


The Prodigy
“Charly” 
#3 – 1991

No one hearing “Charly” in 1991 would have predicted The Prodigy being anything other than one hit wonders. Charly says he can’t believe that having ripped off his horrendous meowling to set them on the way to worldwide success, they dropped him like a brick.  

Its an old school rave anthem with the hook that it samples a 1973 public information film featuring a boy translating his cat Charly’s caterwauling.

Over a series of six short films, Charly and his human mouthpiece warned of

  • the dangers of matches
  • strangers
  • stoves
  • and wandering too far from your dad when he takes you fishing then allowing your cat jump in the river. 

Charly’s not-at-all-grating meow was provided by DJ and comic Kenny Everett. We’ll be seeing more of him in the 80s.


The Shamen & Terence McKenna
“Re-Evolution”

#18 – 1993

What The Shamen did next. After having reached peak commercial success and stirred up moral outrage by encouraging kids to shout along that “E’s are good” to #1 single “Ebeneezer Goode.” 

For the coveted fifth single off the album there was no danger of anyone singing along. Catchy, this is not. 

Re:Evolution is an infomercial for the rave generation:

8:22 of Terence McKenna expounding on the role of the shaman, spirituality, psychedelics and the potential impact of all that on society. 

At least that’s what I think he’s talking about. I listened once as a teenager. It’s conveniently placed as last track on the album allowing for a convenient point to hit stop. Having listened again to write this I got part way through before drifting off into another dimension. Which may be the point. 

Such was the popularity of The Shamen that it went top 20. Which is a mystery of the universe even Terence McKenna can’t explain. 


Aphex Twin
Come To Daddy”

#36 – 1996

Novelty isn’t the word to describe this. Uncompromising, maybe. Its here as an unlikely outlier of a top 40 hit. 

Its a clattering oppressive electronic nightmare with a distorted voice alternating between warning that it wants, and will eat your soul, and asking you to come to daddy. 

It’s debatable as to which is more disturbing. 

It should ideally be experienced with the video to accentuate the nightmare. I wouldn’t say its not safe for work but it’s not safe for anyone of a nervous disposition. 

A group of feral pre-teens terrorise an old lady and smash things up.

For good measure the kids all have the malevolently grinning face of Richard James, aka Aphex Twin, superimposed on theirs. 

Which is the warm up for 3:50, in when a TV births a wraith-like human horror show that’s taken by the kids as their new god.

You’re welcome.

I was going to say that it’s reminiscent of The Ring. But this was two years before the Japanese original. If the old lady thought she was having a bad day, it’s nothing compared to how the emaciated bogeyman greets her. 

It didn’t get shown on Top Of The Pops.


Vanilla
No Way No Way”

#14 – 1997

Yes way. 

You might ask what the Muppets did to deserve this. I can only imagine Miss Piggy’s response. 

  • Bombshell trivia first, though:
  • I’ve only just discovered that “Mah Nà Mah Nà” was composed by Italian Piero Umiliani.
  • For a 1968 softcore pseudo-documentary, Sweden: Heaven and Hell. 

My research has not extended to watching it, so I cannot confirm whether the Swedish Chef makes an appearance. 

Vanilla appeared in the wake of Spice Girls, and it appears the people behind them had a cut price version in mind. Even the name Vanilla suggests lowered expectations.

Whereas Spice Girls sold ‘I wanna really really really wanna zigazig-ah’ as a cheeky statement of intent, the use of “Mah Na Mah Na” is doing a lot of heavy lifting in carrying the song. 

That hook is about all it has.

The music has all the character and complexity of a keyboard preset, the vocals are flat and when the spoken word bit comes in towards the end…

I’d say you’ll be cringing, but the Essex accent may defeat you. As for the video, let’s just say no expense spent. 

The lack of finesse led to rumours that this was the result of a bet between record company executives to come up with the worst group and song possible and see if they could get it to #1.

Rumours that came to be reported as the truth for many. 

It’s definitely not a great song. Which is exacerbated by the fact it’s got that Muppet baiting hook to keep it in your head. 

The culture of the time meant that the members of Vanilla came in for a lot of demeaning criticism. It may be a bad song. But it’s the “creative geniuses” people behind it that deserve all the disrespect.


The Cuban Boys
Cognoscenti vs Intelligentsia

#4 – 1999

Remember the early days of the Internet? The future was bright with this wonderful new resource to enable a sense of community and interconnectedness that would be a force for good in the world. It had its own theme tune listening to the bubbles, beeps and skronks as you waited patiently for the dial up connection to go through. 

It would also be a force for finding ever more inventive ways of wasting time and avoiding work.

{cough}

Enter: ‘The Hampster Dance’ (to give it its correctly misspelled name).

Created by Canadian Deidre La Carte in 1998 on GeoCities.

It used the song “Whistle Stop” from Disney’s animated Robin Hood, with the voice of a singing rooster sped up to sound like a hamster. ‘Cos that’s what hamsters sound like.

Attach that to some now quaint looking graphics of a load of little furballs, and let humanity’s boredom threshold do the rest. 

Which is where The Cuban Boys got involved. They were an underground electronic act who built a track around the Hamster – its a sound that acts as a chilling precursor to Crazy Frog. They sent a demo to legendary alternative DJ John Peel who played it to a huge response.  

Looking to get traction for the single, The Cuban Boys encouraged a rumour that Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller were behind it. They even hacked the Oasis website to insert a link to their own site. 

Deidre was not happy with The Cuban Boys.

(I guess Noel and Paul weren’t overjoyed either).

Articles from the time quote her as saying that The Cuban Boys ripped her off. In order to take back some control Deidre and her partners sanctioned an Official Hampsterdance Song and a whole album recorded under the moniker Hampton The Hamster. Surprisingly this didn’t mark the onset of the apocalypse.


Zig and Zag
Them Girls

#5 – 1994

Zig and Zag are alien twins from the planet Zog. Though you’d swear they’ve got Irish accents.

They look suspiciously like puppets as well. Landing in Ireland, they conquered Irish TV and music charts before moving to Britain to do the same.

Appearing five mornings a week on Channel 4s Big Breakfast the perfect primer for their pop career.  

The likes of Shaggy and Shabba Ranks were familiar chart acts at the time. So going for a Jamaican dance hall sound made some sense. Just not when you’re an Irish accented alien puppet.


Gazza & Lindisfarne
“Fog On The Tyne (Revisited)”

#2 – 1990

Gazza is Paul Gascoigne. Summer 1990, he was 23 and feted as the greatest English player of his generation. The Italy World Cup only enhanced his reputation. He was the class clown, ‘as daft as a brush’ in the words of England manager Bobby Robson.

The semi final against West Germany saw another side.

With the scores level at 1-1 in extra time, Gazza lunged into a tackle receiving a Yellow card – meaning he would be suspended for the final, should England prevail (spoiler alert; they didn’t.) The iconic moment as tears leaked out and his lip wobbled cemented his status in the nations affections. 

How to capitalise on that? Make an album, of course. 

Gazza came to prominence playing for Newcastle United, the city situated on the River Tyne. Lindisfarne, meanwhile, had made it big in the early 70s with their same local ties playing a big part in their identity.

Their first album Fog On The Tyne was a #1 in 1972, and the title song forever a signifier of their hometown. 

Put them both together, write some new lyrics – but retaining the alliterative and evocative opening: ‘Sitting in a sleazy snack bar sucking sickly sausage rolls.’ It was the perfect fit. As long as you weren’t hoping for anything as basic as musicality. 

Gazza’s vocals are ‘limited.’

You could say what he lacks in talent he makes up for in enthusiasm but that still doesn’t mean you’d want to revisit. 

Like the song, it all ended badly for Gazza. He was a unique talent but didn’t have the head or support to cope. He played 57 times for England and won a handful of trophies but it could have been so much more.

He was injury prone, some self inflicted and there were struggles with domestic abuse against his wife, bulimia, OCD and addictions to alcohol, drugs and gambling.


Scatman John
Scatman (ski-ba-bop-ba-dop-bop)

#3 – 1995

Whereas this one offers a redemptive story.

John Larkin was an unlikely global hit maker. A 53 year old Germany based, American jazz pianist and scat singer.

There’s no jazz piano here though. It’s boilerplate Eurodance all the way, transformed into a song like nothing else of the time, by John scatting his way through it. Which put in novelty territory…

…but with the disconnect that he’s telling a personal story of how learning to scat helped with his stutter. 

It’s at once insanely annoyingly catchy, but inspirational. Though you may be too busy trying to work out the scat to focus on the story. 

Altogether now:

Ba-da-ba-da-ba-be bop bop bodda bope
Bop ba bodda bope
Ski-bi dibby dib yo da dub dub

Yo da dub dub


Next time, it’s the 80s!

When the novelty era was in full flow with some astounding and outstanding selections. 

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JJ Live At Leeds

From across the ocean, a middle aged man, a man without a plan, a man full of memories, a man like JJ.

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Phylum of Alexandria
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May 15, 2024 8:39 am

I only recently heard Prodigy’s early stuff, and I love that old school rave sound.

And I love the obnoxious fake mewing, obviously. But I wanted to hear more of it, not the same short clip repeated over and over.

In other words, the cat men could have learned a thing to two from the Scatman! Can’t get enough of that unfettered glosso-lollipop joy.

In contrast, the tight looped clip of the Hampster dance is the source of its dark magic…yet nothing beats the official version. Sorry Cuban Boys.

Low4
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Low4
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May 15, 2024 10:30 am

Gazza–haven’t thought of him in, well, decades. What ultimately happened to him?

Pauly Steyreen
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May 15, 2024 11:50 am

That Aphex Twin “Come to Daddy” video seems to be a precursor to Alex Garland’s 2022 movie Men.

Phylum of Alexandria
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May 15, 2024 12:05 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

The lyrics make me think of Hellraiser. Certainly the come to daddy bit.

And a very hungry Pinhead:

“We’ll eat your soul…a la cart.

Pauly Steyreen
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May 15, 2024 11:54 am

Scatman John doesn’t look very happy btw. Very talented in his field, but the price of fame must be a chronic dissatisfaction with life.

Get that man a dose of “Right Here, Right Now” pronto!

Virgindog
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Virgindog
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May 15, 2024 1:35 pm

If “Living Next Door To Alice” can have a second run as a novelty song, I suggest Neil Diamond redo “Sweet Caroline” with the Fenway Park bleachers shouting “So good! So good! So good!”

Good stuff, JJ. Well, not good, but you know what I mean.

mt58
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mt58
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May 15, 2024 3:25 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

The updated “Alice” reminded me of the R-rated version of Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony.”

To my knowledge, it was never committed to record. But the additional crowd call-and-respons lyrics became the default in the bars during the 90s.

Virgindog
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Virgindog
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May 15, 2024 4:23 pm
Reply to  mt58

I don’t know that one. Explain it to me after the kids have gone to bed.

lovethisconcept
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May 15, 2024 5:53 pm

OOf. I just…I just…don’t know where to go from here. I did notice that Terence McKenna used the correct plural of “shaman” which is “shamans” in his strange, strange soliloquy, but the group is called “Shamen”. That’s the kind of stuff that I latch onto.

Last edited 1 month ago by lovethisconcept
thegue
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thegue
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May 17, 2024 12:32 pm

Shamen > Shamans. The Shamans never had a big hit.

thegue
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thegue
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May 17, 2024 10:27 am

I mentioned in our Messenger group chat that when I lived in the Middle East I got along better with the Brits than I did the Americans. Most of the Americans were from the Midwest, or hippie West Coasters. I was Northeast, born and bred, so I felt as if I’d more in common with the English than the very pleasant, non-sarcastic Middle Americans.

One common bond was our choice of American sitcoms (Frazier, Friends, Seinfeld), but what shocked them was that I knew who The Prodigy was.

I owned Music for the Jilted Generation, bought because I’d listened to them at a listening tower in Tower Records. With that CD as a starting point, I’d also picked up “Charly” though it didn’t hit as hard with me as the Brits.

I also owned “Sesame’s Treet” and Alpha Team’s “Speed Racer” which turned the Greatest Cartoon Ever’s theme song into a techno jam.

Enjoy.

https://youtu.be/teLUakK3pGY?si=sqKgz_lVJW01ew12

blu_cheez
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May 20, 2024 5:24 pm

“Charly” slaps so damn hard – that was my first exposure to The Prodigy (maybe everyone’s?).

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