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Mar 31

Charts – 31 March 2013

Posted on Sunday, March 31, 2013 by Paul in Music

Bit of housekeeping to start: we recorded the podcast tonight, so it’ll be up tomorrow.  X-Axis… probably Monday or Tuesday.  But in the meantime, here’s a chart worth spending a bit of time on.

Regular readers will have noticed that one thing I like about the current chart rules is that literally anything can chart if the great British public suddenly feel an urge urge to buy it, as long as it’s lurking somewhere in the iTunes catalogue.  If enough people succumb to the same collective madness, literally anything can be number one.

Behold a peerless example.  This one’s going to take some explaining for the overseas readers.

Mercifully, it’s a quiet week otherwise – so we start off with a quick canter through other, less interesting new entries.

38.  Blackstreet (featuring Dr Dre) – “No Diggity”

This has been floating around outside the top 40 for quite a few weeks now – I’m not quite sure why, though I see Ed Sheeran’s recently been doing a cover.  It’s a classic, of course.  The original release made number 9 in 1996 and is surely Blackstreet’s best remembered single, though their biggest hit was actually “Don’t Leave Me” (number 6 in 1997).

36.  Fall Out Boy – “The Phoenix”

A surprisingly anaemic debut for the follow-up to “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark”, which made number 5.  Judging from those strings, Plan B’s not the only person who’s heard Peter Fox’s Stravinsky-sampling “Alles Neu”.

25.  Calvin Harris (featuring Ellie Goulding) – “I Need Your Love” 

This is going to be the seventh (!) single from Harris’ album “18 Months”.  No video yet, but if you’re bored of that synth riff that turns up on every Calvin Harris production (or copycat), it’s worth mentioning that it doesn’t crop up on this one, which is one of his more interesting productions.

7.  Charlie Brown – “On My Way”

The highest new entry in a quiet week for new releases.  This guy has apparently been around as a songwriter for UK acts for a few years and he’s now being pushed as an artist in his own right.  As can sometimes be the case with the work of jobbing songwriters, it sounds quite like a lot of other people’s work.  Nicely rousing, but at first glance not much more than that, and the iTunes chart doesn’t suggest it’s going to stick around.

2.  Pink (featuring Nate Ruess) – “Just Give Me A Reason” 

I can’t begin to imagine the conversation where somebody explains to Pink why she doesn’t have her fourth UK number one this week.  Let it be noted, though, that last week’s number one – “What About Us” by the Saturdays – is at number 3 and would have been dethroned anyway.

And so we come to our main event.

1.  PJ & Duncan – “Let’s Get Ready to Rhumble”

So.  If you’re not British, you really should watch the video before going further.  You will then be asking several obvious questions.  What the hell is this?  Why is it number one?  Who are PJ and Duncan?  And why are they introducing themselves by different names?

The short answer is: this is an early incarnation of Ant & Dec, Britain’s most beloved light entertainers.  The long answer is below.

Let us begin at the beginning.  (Apologies for the sound quality, but this really is the best version I could find.)

Once upon a time, in the distant days of 1989, the BBC created a teen soap opera called Byker Grove.  It was set in a youth club in the Byker district of Newcastle (hence the name) and it was intended to deal with Important Teenage Issues.  It did well.  It ran for seventeen years.

The cast were recruited from Newcastle teenagers and initially included 14-year-old Declan Donnelly in the role of Duncan.  Antony McPartlin joined as PJ the next year.  The largely inaudible and not especially promising scene above is apparently their first on-screen appearance together.  From tiny acorns and so forth.

The production team apparently soon recognised that the two had chemistry (clip above notwithstanding) and decided to position their characters as a duo.  Hence, PJ & Duncan.  They stayed in the show until 1994 by which time it was pretty much inevitable they would have to move on.  In an unusual (for the BBC) piece of transparent cross-marketing, the resulting storyline involved them going into pop music.

The resulting single was… not “Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble”.  It was “Tonight I’m Free”.  You’ve probably never heard it even if you’re British.  Here it is.  (If you’re wondering why Ant’s wearing dark glasses in the video, it’s because at this point in the show, his character had been blinded by a paintball gun in a cautionary tale.)

“Tonight I’m Free” is awful, save for the bits that were lifted from Utah Saints.  It made number 62.  Inexplicably, however, somebody decided to sign them to an album.  The next single (“Why Me?”) made a rather improved 27, despite being transparently knocked off from Kriss Kross’s “Jump”.  It is astronomically bad.  Here it is.

Then we get to “Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble”, which achieved the dizzying heights of number 9, perhaps because it’s actually quite good by comparison.  Judged by its own standards – that is, as a pop song aimed at thirteen year old girls – it’s really quite decent, since even if the rapping is, shall we say, endearingly naive, at least they sell the damn thing, and at least it’s got a proper hook of its own.  Nineteen years on, it’s the song everyone remembers them for.  It’s also the song that Ant & Dec themselves are most keen to acknowledge when making fun of their earlier musical career – partly because it’s the most recognisable reference point, and partly because it’s probably the best pop single they made.

You will note that by the time of this single they’re already introducing themselves in the lyrics as Ant and Dec, despite the record still being credited to PJ & Duncan.  Supposedly, by this point they were already starting to show signs of taking control of their careers and were rightly keen to ensure they were marketed under their own names.  The awkward compromise was to bill them as “PJ & Duncan AKA”.

They made three albums between 1994 and 1997, consistently placing singles just outside the top ten.  Some of them aren’t bad.  “Our Radio Rocks”, a number 15 hit from their second album, is pretty decent – and you’ll note that by this point their rapping’s got a lot better.

The third album is… interesting.  It’s the one they don’t talk about.  On the one hand, they finally got their way and were credited as “Ant & Dec”.  On the other hand, it was an attempt to move into making better songs that still placed four singles on the verge of the top ten but ultimately got them dropped.  There’s attempted sincerity at play here, and this was a miscalculation.

After getting dropped by their label, the duo abandoned music in favour of developing their other career, which they had implausibly been developing in parallel: children’s TV presenters.  They proceeded to clamber up the ladder of UK children’s television, making some very odd shows that attracted a bit of critical attention and landed them, in 1998, the Saturday morning slot on ITV.

This is a turning point in their careers.  Firstly, the Saturday morning live children’s shows on BBC1 and ITV were, at that stage, iconic.  Secondly, they’re a great breeding ground for TV presenters because if you can handle a studio of screaming children for three hours, you can do anything.  And third, by this point they’re firmly in charge of their identity and the material they’re putting out.

SMTV: Live, which also helped launch the career of Cat Deeley, was a frequently bizarre show – a mixture of the usual cartoons and interviews with frankly odd low-budget sketch comedy that earned it a cult following.  The Captain Justice sketches, for example, featured Ant as a superhero concerned exclusively with consumer law whose advice was either wholly impractical or tediously prosaic, and who was also ever-hopeful of romancing Dec, hence his twin catchphrases of “Always keep the receipt” and “I’m sorry, I misread the signs.”  (There was no attempt whatsoever to veil the homosexual angle.)

From there, the duo made the transition to presenting adult television, anchoring the likes of Pop Idol, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, and Britain’s Got Talent, and finally getting their own prime time shows on Saturday night where they could do… well, pretty much whatever they wanted, really.  Shows like Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, which they’ve been doing since 2002, are their take on the classic “stunts, games and comedy” TV-variety format that Noel Edmonds dominated in the 1980s and that are familiar in much of Europe and South America but (to the best of my knowledge) have no direct equivalent in America.  This might explain why ABC struggled so much to explain who they were when they presented Wanna Bet? (a remake of You Bet) in 2007.  They were billed as a comedy duo, which is kind of true, but doesn’t really identify their niche.  They’re light entertainers.  And they’re extremely good at it.

At this stage, Ant & Dec have basically achieved de facto national treasure status.  They are household names to young and old and their music career is a joke that’s brought up from time to time, largely confined to “Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble” because it’s the only song of theirs most people can name.  They’ve cultivated the brand carefully – they never appear separately, they always make sure to stand with Ant on the left for ease of identification, they’ve bought the rights to Byker Grove which is presumably why you don’t see it on digital channels.

They appear to have reached the stage of being bulletproof.  They can host a dud show like Red or Black and everyone will (rightly) blame the format instead of it rebounding on them.  One of their shows was implicated in the phone vote scandal of a few years back, but the resulting investigation blamed the production team, and there didn’t seem to be any impact on the duo’s own reputation.  Their failed comedy film Alien Autopsy shows that there’s a limit to their appeal, but in their area they seem pretty much dominant.

So why is “Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble” suddenly number 1?  Because they did it on their show last week, to tie in with an appearance by some reunited pop bands who were plugging a show on ITV2.  They claim it was basically a time-filler (though I suspect they’re playing down the level of planning involved), and they claim they didn’t expect it to sell any copies (which I kind of do believe, since it’s not the first time they’ve dusted the song off).

It’s been 19 years, but the song isn’t that obscure, and it’s not that unusual for it to be mentioned.  Still, a sudden surge of sales on iTunes evidently hit the tipping point where the prospect of PJ & Duncan having a number one hit seemed perversely appealing to everyone – besides which, it’s a record people of a certain age tend to remember with genuine affection.

Over on the album chart:

  • “The 20/20 Experience” by Justin Timberlake is still number 1.
  • “Delta Machine” by Depeche Mode at 2 – they still have a devoted fanbase.
  • “Comedown Machine” by the Strokes at 10.  Their fifth album.  All the others made the top 3.
  • “Old Sock” by Eric Clapton at 13.  You’ve got to have confidence to call your album that.
  • “In Love” by Peace at 16.  Indie rock.  The NME is behind them.
  • “Celebrate: The Greatest Hits of Simple Minds” at number 19.
  • “An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera” by Joe Bonamassa at 23.  He’s a blues singer.
  • “I Am Not A Human Being II” by Lil Wayne at 29.  If you say so, Wayne.
  • “Maiden England ’88” by Iron Maiden at 30.  A reissued live album.
  • “Best of Blue” at 34.  See, somebody else on that Ant & Dec show got a few sales too!
  • “Native” by OneRepublic at 35.  Britain briefly cared about these guys in 2007, but not so much since.

Bring on the comments

  1. Dave O'Neill says:

    Oh man. I know now more and Ant and Dec than I ever did, and I’ve watched them all my life

  2. Martin Smith says:

    Oh, god, Our Radio Rocks. I used to really like that song (and Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble). In my defence, I was about 8. I had no idea they did three albums though. I thought it was just the one and then onto kids’ TV.
    Also didn’t know they’d bought the rights to Byker Grove. That’s pretty shrewd on their part, although I don’t think it was ever bad enough that repeating it now would damage their current standing.

  3. Paul F says:

    I never watched Byker Grove as a kid, but I loved SMTV Live. I was very happy when I found out Cat Deeley had managed to get a US career after that.

  4. Andy Walsh says:

    “No Diggity” made an appearance in the college a capella film “Pitch Perfect.” Did that get a theatrical/home video release in the UK recently?

  5. Paul F says:

    Andy: No, not for another two weeks. And it seems very unlikely that would get something to chart. Except for Anna Kendrick’s version of Cups, which I think charted in the US somehow.

  6. Jerry Ray says:

    After reading (well, skimming) all the Ant and Dec stuff, I’m most puzzled why the one guy’s wearing an Atlanta Braves (my local baseball team) hat, and the other one is wearing what appears to be a hockey jersey. Are baseball and hockey popular fashion statements among dodgy white UK rappers? 🙂

  7. They’re actually both wearing ice hockey jerseys. (Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens.)

  8. Dave says:

    “…not the first time they’ve dusted the song off”

    It was brought up again just a few weeks ago when they appeared on Jonathan Ross, with no sales generated that I know of. But it’s interesting to speculate now whether or not that was the start of an attempt to get it a re-entry.

    I still think SM:TV was far and away their best programme, but then Simon Cowell shows and reality TV have no interest for me. Also, I can never work out why they don’t do X-Factor when there’s the Cowell link and they did do Pop Idol.

    Finally (who knew there was so much to say about Ant & Dec?), I remember ‘Shout’ as well. No.10, 1997, Googling tells me.

  9. Rhuw Morgan says:

    Quite surprised that it was the Blue greatest hits that re-entered the charts, they were the weakest of the three groups on Ant & Dec. I’d also forgotten how good a singer the red head in Atomic Kitten was.

  10. Andy Walsh says:

    @Paul F: Fair enough, thanks! It was, at best, a meager hypothesis to begin with.

  11. Alex says:

    Before reading that, the most I’d ever been exposed to Ant and Dec was when they were on Danny Baker’s 5 Live show a few weeks ago.

  12. For the Canadian equivalent, I imagine an alternate universe where Degrassi High’s Zit Remedy was much, much more popular.

  13. Ben Johnston says:

    At the risk of sounding dense, why are they wearing NHL jerseys? I didn’t realise hockey was remotely popular in the UK. Finland, Sweden, yes…but England?

  14. Tim O'Neil says:

    Although after I thought about it for a second I knew what Anna Kendrick’s “Cups” was (been awhile since I saw the movie) I had a split-second where I imagined her doing a cover of the Underworld song. That’s a far preferably universe to the one in which we live.

    I admit to being fascinated by things like Ant & Dec. You hit the nail on the head when you said they were “light entertainers” – we don’t really have anything like that over here. We have TV presenters, yes, but they’re far less beloved, more mocked than anything – the idea of Ryan Seacrest releasing a single is just hilarious. MTV used to do those kinds of things with their VJs back in the 80s and 90s – when they still ran videos – but we haven’t seen them try that since the heady days of Jessie Camp.

  15. Paul says:

    “At the risk of sounding dense, why are they wearing NHL jerseys?”

    Because it’s the sort of clumsy imitation of poorly understood American pop culture that an audience in 2013 imagines a UK pop-rap act would have attempted in 1994.

  16. Paul says:

    (See also: John Cena.)

  17. Susi O'Brien says:

    Yeah, as Paul says, the hockey shirts are a deliberate joke to make them look daft and dated in their ‘revival’ performance.

    If anyone’s wondering why Ant always seems to be wearing a hat, take note of the size of his forehead in the Forever video. This ever-receeding hairline was an ongoing joke earlier in their presenting career, but gets mentioned less often these days.

  18. Hmm says:

    I just remember the amount of complaints their pre-SMTV Channel 4 tv show got. It was a crude innuendo laden fest (before they became fashionable again) and got hammered from all sides.

    That and the ability to wind up anyone of a certain age from Newcastle by saying “me eyes! me eyes! I canna see man”

  19. Charles Knight says:

    “The Captain Justice sketches, for example, featured Ant as a superhero concerned exclusively with consumer law whose advice was either wholly impractical or tediously prosaic”

    Surely a take-off of the ‘Captain Cash’ feature that ran at the same time in the News of the Screws?

  20. Si says:

    I don’t know how Byker Grove is meant to be pronounced, but nobody tell me, I prefer to imagine it like a place for really pretentious and kewl motorcyclists.

  21. Hmm, now I’m torn between letting Si have his fun and posting the AH-MAY-ZING Byker Grove theme song, in all its Geordie glory…

  22. Biffo says:

    “If I give you my number” is the best PJ and Duncan song, as any fule no: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwB-HZX5a6I

  23. LiamKav says:

    I can’t wait to see what you say about this week’s charts if they don’t change by the weekend.

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