This year’s string of pop deaths means that my music archives threaten to become nothing but obituaries; I still haven’t done my recap of last year’s listening (or the year before’s). But Tom Ewing has kept ploughing through 2001’s UK number ones, and even though I wasn’t paying much attention to pop that year I’ve commented on a few—reproduced here as a useful stop-gap during marking season.

Geri Halliwell, “It’s Raining Men”, 12 May 2001

I was unreasonably annoyed by the literalism of this single’s cover and the corresponding scene in the video. Did Halliwell and her hangers-on think the Weather Girls’ title was missing a comma? It’s wet out there, fellas. I’d take a brolly if I were you, chaps.

Pointless millennial-pop cover of fine ’80s single, with no vocal prowess to elevate it, equals a 4 from me.

Robbie Williams, “Eternity”/“The Road to Mandalay”, 22 July 2001

I’ve been surprised how much I’ve liked Robbie’s run of millennial number ones; it must be the Guy Chambers/Divine Comedy connection. For that reason, I actually found “Mandalay” a more novel listen than “Eternity”, sounding more like a Divine Comedy off-cut than a chart-topper. Between the two of them, I could stretch to a 6.

Atomic Kitten, “Eternal Flame”, 4 August 2001

Given that the chart dates match the end of the week, this was number one when I moved to Britain at the end of July 2001. The cover version itself rings no bells for me, and the original was never my favourite Bangles song, so I have no quibble with the 2 that Tom gave it. But the video is like a welcome-to-’01-Blighty madeleine: the Kittens were archetypes of the fake-tanned, straight-blonde-haired young women who so stood out to a newcomer on the streets of Edinburgh that autumn—a particularly British look, it seemed to me, as someone who was travelling a lot at the time. Would have been perfect for a time capsule.

Bob the Builder, “Mambo No. 5”, 15 September 2001

The Popular crew spent some time dissecting the merits of this song’s backing track, but Neil Morrissey is never going to be my favourite vocalist, so this only rates a 3 from me. As Bob tracks go, I much prefer the lead single from his 2008 album (which coincided with my small son’s initial infatuation with the show), “Big Fish Little Fish”. That one only reached number 81—probably because showing it to the kids on YouTube was easier than buying the single, and its many repeat views didn’t count towards the charts.

DJ Otzi, “Hey Baby (Uhh, Ahh)”, 22 September 2001

Another song I knew only from a kids’ album, and those Australian cover artists did a more appealing job than DJ Otzi. The Bruce Channel original is a harmless slice of early-’60s pop, but Ozti’s additions are all pretty awful. I own one or two Schlager CDs as souvenirs of travels in Germany and Switzerland, but can’t say that I ever listen to them, and I wouldn’t ever choose to listen to this again either. 2, if only to preserve the 1s for songs from my own personal ninth circle of Hell.

Kylie Minogue, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”, 29 September 2001

Even though it hit the top a couple of weeks later, this feels like the right song to reflect on 9/11 and what it wrought. September 11 started as a moment, a single day, but it towered over the remaining months of 2001, burning in our collective memory: never was a number one’s title so inadvertently apt.

I saw the news on a headline board for the Edinburgh Evening News as I walked back to my office at the end of the day after a meeting, six weeks into my new job here. It said “Hundreds Die in New York Terror Attack”, or something like that, and I imagined something like the sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway, or the recent Metro bombing in Brussels. Back at the office, the news sites were all timing out, so I visited a favourite group blog and read about it there.

That night my wife and I caught a taxi from our temporary accommodation to our new flat, where we spent our first night with no furniture and no TV. (For as long as we lived there, I never had any trouble remembering our moving-in date for forms.) We decided we didn’t need a TV just yet, as we knew what would be playing on it, over and over again. As these were the days before online video amounted to much, it was some time before I saw any footage of the planes crashing into the towers, although there were plenty of photographs online—too many.

I couldn’t get 9/11 out of my head for weeks, months, years; writing blog posts about the thoughts and fears it triggered, and dreading every September 11, until I decided on the fifth anniversary that I was done dwelling on it. But until then, it felt impossible not to. In those first days and weeks, as someone who had just moved to the UK, imagining a worst case scenario where everything shut down, I wondered when international air travel would be routine enough again that we could visit family back home, or them us. I felt stranded on the far side of the world, like an emigrant from 1901 or 1801 rather than 2001.

And here was this impossibly catchy tune, sung by a pop princess from home, a musical relic of a time just weeks before when the 21st century—and our own move overseas—held out more hope, now suddenly given this awful new context. In a world numb with shock, carrying on on autopilot, following some terrible pre-ordained program that would take us to war, robot dancing on endless loop made perfect sense.

It’s true that “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” might sound even better with a little more development (was there an extended version?), so I suppose it isn’t perfect-perfect, but there aren’t many singles from the ’00s that feel like a nailed-on classic to me, and one of them never reached number one in the UK. 10 it is.

Westlife, “Queen of My Heart”, 17 November 2001

Tom in his review called this the “ur-Westlife song”. With my head full of Prince, I couldn’t help reading that as “yer Westlife song”, as in “ur Westlife song is pretty feckin’ awful”. 2.

26 April 2016 · Music