It started off as a simple tweet. An observation from us that Bruno Brookes never got the opportunity to utter live on Radio 1 “Eve’s Volcano (Covered In Sin)” on a Sunday evening back in 1987. You see, Julian Cope’s lush final release from the Saint Julian album topped the chart at the rather frustrating Number 41, denying it exposure to a much wider audience by a mere whisker.
In response to our tweet a regular participant in our community Simon White AKA @Wimon on Twitter, suggested a weekly or maybe daily feature of indie songs that peaked at Number 41 in the UK charts. We normally sit up when Simon speaks and he got us thinking. A great suggestion undoubtably but a better one would be an article for the website penned by Simon on the very subject of indie songs that just didn’t quite cut the UK Top 40 mustard.
So after a DM session with Simon we had secured his signature and established a frame of reference resulting in what you are about to read. It’s a quality piece of work with the added bonus of a fantastic playlist at the end which is an essential listen.
Over to Simon..
I used to love buying singles. I must have bought far more singles than albums over the years. There’s a thrill with a single: a band putting forward a single musical shot that, in the space of 2 to 5 minutes will convey an idea, a statement, a melody, a sentiment, a new direction, a chorus that sticks in your head for days (not to mention the artwork, accompanying video and if you’re lucky a couple of decent B-sides too). Within such time constraints, it is remarkable how often the concept of a single just WORKS.
The single would often be the way you’d discover a band, perhaps on Radio 1 or Top of The Pops or The Chart Show. If it had enough of an impact on you, you’d go out and buy it as soon as you could, or perhaps hold back and get the album instead. And if enough people bought the single, it would be a hit, then more people would hear it on the radio, more people would like it and then discover the band and explore more of their songs in the process.
The Top 40 always felt important to me too. The most popular song is rarely the best song, but if you loved a song and knew that thousands of other people were sharing that emotion too, at exactly the same time, then it was an uplifting aspect to being in love with that song.
Back in the day, single sales would pick up slowly and through word of mouth and radio play, a song would crawl up the charts as it became more established and popular. But The Jam sparked a different response from their fans, who would typically try and buy their singles in the first week of release. At the time, The Jam were putting out very strong B-sides too. And with Going Underground/Dreams Of Children, they had the first UK single to go straight in at Number 1 in over 6 years.
This buying pattern became the indie sales blueprint, so within that genre, first week sales would often represent the peak position in the sales chart (as you would then have to rely on new fans for an improved position in the second week of release). Your favourite band would put out a new single and you’d always buy it as soon as you could, to maintain the completeness of your collection.
I always buy Saint Etienne singles and even when in Scotland in 2002 for a wedding, I still found time to buy their new single Action (during its first week of release), whilst shopping in Edinburgh. Dutifully, I bought both CD1 & CD2. With their renewed sense of pop and coolness (that had gone a bit AWOL since 1998’s Good Humor), it was a reasonable hope that they’d be back in the Top 20 that Sunday. But this never quite happened. I’d done my bit, but the single only entered at Number 41. And if you’ve never heard it, that’s why. A week later it had dropped to Number 89. But it came from a fine album (Finisterre) and there are probably 5 or more even better actual/potential singles on there that you may also have never heard.
And this is the curse – the frustration – of getting THAT close. Whilst Simply Red may quietly kick themselves at having 4 singles peaking at Number 11, some bands have never even had a Top 40 hit. Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci may have a life changing album on offer in Barafundle, but the indie-waltz of Patio Song peaked at Number 41 and that’s as good as it got for them. They even had other singles peaking at Numbers 42, 43, 47 & 49, just to rub it in. Imagine if Lenny Valentino by The Auteurs had just done slightly better? Or Emily Kane by Art Brut? Or Ladies’ Man by The D4? Or Psycho by Thee Unstrung? But for all these bands, these were their most successful singles, all peaking at Number 41 and leaving behind a sense of what might have been.
In 1994, US band Cracker peaked at Number 41 with Get Off This. They’re still going and probably not even sulking, but they’ve never troubled the UK charts again. Although for some bands, this can just be a blip on the journey. King Of The Rodeo by Kings Of Leon was a Number 41 hit, but they soon had a couple of million sellers under their belts and birds shitting in their mouths on stage!
For others, it’s a strange position to reflect upon, after relative past success. As a blueprint for a hit, teaming up Tim Burgess with The Chemical Brothers for a 10 year anniversary reunion would seem like a great idea. In the preceding years, The Chems had had Number 1 singles and only grown in stature, but single The Boxer couldn’t even match the modest success of Life Is Sweet and stalled at Number 41. A few months earlier, R.E.M. had a great song in Aftermath, but it didn’t connect with those who’d bought Automatic For The People (and its associated singles) some years before.
You can of course be unlucky more than once. The House Of Love peaked at Number 41 with consecutive Fontana singles (Never & I Don’t Know Why I Love You) in 1989. And Julian Cope has managed it with The Teardrop Explodes (You Disappear From View) and also as solo artist in 1987 with Eve’s Volcano (Covered In Sin). Some record labels are repeat offenders here (perhaps not putting enough copies on the shelves?): Creation Records had Number 41 hits with My Bloody Valentine – Glider EP and Primal Scream – Don’t Fight It, Feel It. Heavenly Records too, with The 22-20s – Why Don’t You Do It For Me?, Ed Harcourt – This One’s For You and Northern Uproar – Rollercoaster/Rough Boys.
So perhaps Heavenly’s Jeff Barrett should be regarded as The King of Number 41? But The Queen of Number 41 is shared between two ladies. PJ Harvey had 3 x Number 41 singles (You Come Through, Good Fortune and This Is Love) plus there was a further such hit for Polly Harvey with Josh Homme as part of Desert Sessions – Crawl Home. And Siouxsie & The Banshees annoyingly had 4 x Number 41 singles (Israel, Slowdive, The Passenger and The Killing Jar).
When I look through a full list of these songs, and recall how frequently I would go single-shopping, it’s remarkable how many passed me by. There really are some great songs on the list, but sometimes it may just be that too many other songs were released that same week. For example, The Senseless Things missed out on a Top 40 hit with Primary Instinct because Stairway To Heaven by Rolf Harris was released at the same time. And sometimes I just blame myself, like the time in 1997 that I couldn’t quite push myself enough to purchase Lazy Line Painter Jane by Belle & Sebastian (I did buy it some months later and they are now my favourite band). So in some small way, we’ve probably all let some of these songs down a little.
Help is at hand with the EverythingIndieOver40 compilation: “NOW 41 – Now That’s What I Call Almost”. There are sadly too many tracks that could have featured, but we have compiled 41 of the blighters to illustrate the point. And it fares far better than the real NOW 41 (which had the likes of UB40, The Lighthouse Family and Phil Collins on it – and that was just Disc 1!). At least we now have the technology to compile and share this stuff and celebrate 41 in all its lack of glory.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Simon White (@Wimon) grew up in Cardiff but has spent almost all his adult life in England. His “Road To Damascus” indie moment was in HMV, Cardiff in late 1989, when hearing Fools Gold for the first time. However, he already had indie leanings, having seen The Darling Buds and The Blue Aeroplanes at the start of that year. His first job in Bristol was in the red-bricked building on the vinyl inner of The Field Mice – Emma’s House EP (SARAH 12).
In 2000, he produced two issues of indie fanzine Music For Girls, featuring exclusive interviews with Bobby Wratten and Rosita. He now lives in Tunbridge Wells with a wife and young boy. He always thinks fondly of World Of Twist whenever passing the jeweller’s shop on The Pantiles, featured on their album sleeve. He has recently resumed his mid-90s songwriting hobby and just written his first ever song in a minor chord!”
Thank you to Simon for a quality item and for taking to get involved. If you would like to contribute to our Indie Encounters feature and share your indie moments please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us on Twitter
We are waiting in anticipation