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> Top of the Pops - Christmas Special 1999, Review!
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BillyH
post Jan 9 2017, 10:29 PM
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1999 - the greatest year EVER for music! Kids like me had oodles of manufactured pop goodness to bop along to on CD:UK every weekend morning, moody teens immersed themselves in post-Britpop reflective gloom about being rained on and having secret smiles, and clubbers raved their combat trousers off to heavenly, euphoric trance brilliance in various buildings that are probably long-bulldozed and replaced with flats and Costa Coffee branches today. It was a wonderful, optimistic time to be alive, the very end of the 'old' world where people talked to each other and socialised in real life more before internet and mobiles started spoiling all the fun in the next couple of years. Get me a damn time machine now to take me back.

But perhaps there's no need, as the full Xmas Top of the Pops for that year is now available to view on a popular video sharing website. I thought I'd check it out while it lasted, rediscover my eleven-year-old self a little and see if 1999 really was as pop perfection as it got. Broadcast on Christmas Day, in between an old 'Morecambe and Wise' repeat (a 1977 episode, as long ago then as the year 1995 is now - jesus!) and Robbie the Reindeer - Hooves of Fire, your hosts are Jamie Theakston, Jayne Middlemiss, Gail Porter, and...Ricky Martin?!

Song 1: Ricky Martin - LIVIN' DA VIDA LOCA

The colourful opening titles are followed not by our regular hosts, but from the Puerto Rican megastar himself, wishing us a Merry Christmas and introducing his own #1 summer smash, live in the BBC studio. Dressed in a fairly standard black shirt and jeans, as if we're watching the rehearsal rather than the real thing, he expertly mimes his way through the awesome Latin banger, all sorts of hand gestures and hip-wriggling getting the screaming crowd on board. It's odd how little I hear this song now, given how you absolutely couldn't escape it worldwide during that summer, and starts the show nicely with a megahit I'm enjoying hearing again.

The song finishes with a arms-up flourish, and a dodgy edit abruptly fades into our three hosts standing awkwardly in some kind of odd triangle formation. "This is the Top of the Pops Christmas Special!!" shrieks Miss Middlemiss, in case we thought the Queen's speech had gone a bit over the top, "where we're counting down the biggest hits of the week AND!! Of 1999!", that final year of the decade delivered almost apocalyptically in case the Millennium Bug really does destroy us all next week. "Speaking of which" glumly adds Porter, completely failing to pretend she's not reading from an autocue, "this next act stayed in the top 5 for six weeks" in the days when that was genuinely astonishing. "Refresh your mind - it's Alice Deejay!!"

Song 2: Alice Deejay - BETTER OFF ALONE

Actually a 32 year old Dutch bloke called Jurgen (producing it, not singing it, that would be hideous), he's nowhere to be seen on this performance which consists of a woman actually not called 'Alice' but Judith Pronk, and two backing dancers, all dressed festively red for the season and beginning the long bleepy instrumental introduction with some Steps-like dance routining, a couple of crowd members occasionally shouting "Wooo!!" in the absence of anything else to react to. Whether it's just the Youtube copy or not, there's what looks like a slight edit just as the first line kicks in, Judith preparing that first "Do" and the picture digitally slowing down for a couple of seconds. Maybe she got the cue slightly wrong on the filmed take (not that it matters as, again, the whole thing is mimed) and the nice editors fixed it for her? Who knows.

And who cares, because this is and remains bloody brilliant, a proper timeless trance-pop anthem of the time, and Judith looks proper lovely in every shot. Two songs in and two genuine bangers to start us off - it's looking good!

"Alice, still enjoying being single there" bitchily sneers Theakston. Warns us that "opinion was divided" over the next song - surely not Aphex Twin's 'Windowlicker'? No, just...

Song 3: Cliff Richard - THE MILLENNIUM PRAYER

Well, you can't really ignore it. Younger viewers with no memory of the closing weeks of '99 may never quite understand just how absolutely colossal this was, genuinely looking like a shoe-in for Xmas - and Millennium - #1. And fair play to Cliff, he's obviously over the moon that he's on the show and becomes the unofficial Fourth Host for a bit, calling the audience "poppers" and going into a slightly bizarre comedy festive message about whether we've had our lunch or not. When he finally introduces his song, the crowd SCREAM their hearts out in what I presume is joy, and a still clearly-thrilled Cliff puts on a blinder of a performance, a big two-fingers to everyone who laughed at him mashing up the Lord's Prayer and Auld Lang Syne only to watch stunned as it sold an utter ton that month. The crowd throw up their arms and sway along around Cliff and his choir, causing a fairly spectacular sight in the tiny studio.

It's really, really easy to hate on this song - there's absolutely no way anything like it would get anywhere near #1 today, but you can't deny how popular it was for that final pre-millennium festive season. Hell, even my Dad loved it and his musical knowledge stops sometime around the early 1980s. Porter, a little more loosened up after her first slightly stilted link, takes us onto number 4, and an artist who was so big at the time only her first name was needed as an introduction...

Song 4: Martine McCutcheon - PERFECT MOMENT

"Martine" - not Tiffany, that's so last year - sings another big '99 radio staple I've barely heard since. Looking so much like a young Carol Vorderman I'm expecting Richard Whiteley to run on stage and do an impromptu rap any moment, this is a track that ten-year-old me had no time for - boring woman sings boring song - but while it's nothing groundbreaking, it's nice to hear today in a nostalgic way. The crowd slightly awkwardly sway along, the women in the audience near the front giggle away in some kind of conversation as Martine sings/mimes her heart out. One bloke in the audience embarrassingly starts cheering half a second earlier than the rest of the crowd at the end of the song ("Weeeyyyy!"), possibly the warm-up guy or just someone who's determined to get his voice heard to excitedly alert the family over Christmas dinner. "Listen! Did you hear that! That was me!! Rewind it! Oh wait, it's 1999 and that's not possible yet. Bugger."

"Dance music WAS the big thing this year" shouts Middlemiss when introducing our next track, an odd emphasis on the word 'was' as if that's no longer the case, and given how recent this next one is the genre looks in no bad health for now...

Song 5: Eiffel 65 - BLUE (DA BA DEE)

Yo, listen up! Here's a story about a bizarre Italian band having a random worldwide megahit about a random colour and a chorus everyone used to mishear, younger me thinking they were singing "I'm a leader for Di" and wondering if they were referring to the late Princess. An on-screen caption informs that this is, amazingly, the second biggest-seller of the year so far.

The band wear shirts with "Eiffel 65" printed in big letters on the front, some extra advertising for any casual viewers who've just tuned in, supported by some vest-wearing backing dancers who couldn't look more 1999 if they tried. And that's a BIG amount of screams and cheers from what is easily the most active the audience has been so far, everyone properly raving it to a massive party anthem of the age. It's never been my favourite of a year crammed to the brim with dance classics, but - again - nostalgic and fun to hear. Incidentally, could we not have a few more 'Merry Christmas' greetings from the acts, please? So far it's just been Ricky and Cliff, everyone else is just sticking to the song and song only which feels a little Scroogy.

"Interesting fact for you!" smirks Theakston, and stuns us all by actually delivering on his promise: "Eiffel 65, Ricky Martin and Cliff Richard...the only artists that spent longer than two weeks at number 1 over the last twelve months". Another reminder at how long ago this was and how different the slow-as-hell charts of 2016 compare to 17 years earlier, although there's one more song that would (later) do this to come. "Oh" replies Middlemiss (I think) in the least interested way possible, and the camera abruply cuts away to the next act as if to stop us from learning any more.

Song 6: Robbie Williams - SHE'S THE ONE

"ALBUM OF THE YEAR" screams the on-screen caption, not quite understanding their logic there as 'I've Been Expecting You' was a 1998 release, but it was certainly a massive seller right through '99 as more singles emerged. Classic cheekiness from Robbie, throwing in a "D'ya know this one?" to the crowd after the first verse, various adlibs throughout proving that, for once, we actually have a live and non-mimed performance on this show! "Thank you for a great 1999" is his message to end the song, followed by a triumphant "YES!!" as if Doctor Who just told him he'd still be grabbing top 40 hits 17 years later. Nice ballad, but overplayed (if not as much as Angels) and he's done better.

Song 7: Steps - TRAGEDY

The presenters disappear completely for a while as we 'mix' our way from Robbie to what looks like a old repeat of Steps, leading to an unintentionally amusing moment where the victorious arm moments of Robbie are overlaid with the opening beats of Tragedy as if he's dancing to the song.

Yeah, I loved this as did virtually every ten year old child in the country, recording the videos off The Box and replaying them until I'd memorised every dance routine of the song - seeing them live in 2012 was a proper youthful dream fulfilled! Classic pop act of my youth, 'Tragedy' was the obvious choice here (in the YTD top 20 despite being released in late 1998) but a play of comparatively forgotten classics 'Better Best Forgotten' or 'Love's Got a Hold On My Heart' would have been good too.

Song 8: TLC - NO SCRUBS

Another abrupt mix takes us not just out of the TOTP studio but the UK itself, a live Rhode Island stage performance of this song specially recorded for the show. Huge R&B classic from the time, not one I revisit a lot but wonderful to see the much-missed Lisa Left-Eye Lopes in action again.

"Time now for another three-letter band" teases Porter as we return to the studio. REM? No, actually just one DJ, stretching the definition of 'band' a bit, but no matter when it's a track as iconic as THIS...

Song 9: ATB: 9PM (TIL I COME)

Ok, fair enough, he's joined by a whole load of male and female dancers (half wearing red - I'm liking the colour co-ordination in this show, lots of acts have got the memo) who boogie their way through the radio edit as Mr Tanneberger pretends to press keyboard buttons on a massive DJ booth in the middle of the stage. The crowd scream their delight at the chorus, but disappointingly most of them just stand there meekly clapping along instead of going nuts on the dancefloor like they should be. Forget the performance, pretend you're in Ibiza at 2am, this is a HUGE anthem!!

Various abstract colourful graphics bring us the welcome voice of Mark "IT'S HERE!!" Goodier, then the Radio 1 chart show host, as he counts down the official Xmas top 20, some positions including background video of a live TOTP performance of said track. William Orbit/Ferry Corsten's remix of 'Adagio for Strings' is by far my fave in the countdown, sadly just the official video is represented for that. We're taken right up to #2 - Cliff's Millennium Prayer - and the next chart show, the last one of the millennium, is plugged for this Sunday on Radio 1.

It's time for the Christmas number 1 and we're still only halfway through the show! "I know who it is!!" eagerly shouts Porter. "I'm gonna give you some clues, right! There's five of them..." she begins, Theakston and Middlemiss pretending to play along with this charade, "They're from Ireland...they're called Westlife..." Bit of a giveaway, innit? "Is it Westlife?" asks Middlemiss, and the crowd are screaming too much to do anything other than crack straight on with the song.

Song 10: Westlife - I HAVE A DREAM

A few breathed sighs of relief when Cliff didn't quite make it to Xmas - and Millenium - #1, but that quickly became sighs of despair when they realised who'd actually done it. A double-A side of tried-and-tested covers, this was Westlife's version of the ABBA classic.

They're all sitting on stools, in what eventually became a bit of a cliche and probably already was by the time this was made. Are they all gonna stand up at the chorus? Wait for it...yep, and the audience inevitably scream at the delight that their favourite band can sit and stand like most able-bodied human beings, in unison to boot. A seriously dull performance - at least Cliff brought in his own choir - and they stand there frozen in position awkwardly waving as the next link begins, terrified to speak or improv like the manufactured drones they are.

'World Of Our Own' ain't bad, though. I'll give them that.

Next link is for some reason displayed on a small television screen with an arm resting on top of it. What's going on? Who does the arm belong to? WHAT IS THIS TRICKERY? Theakston asks Middlemiss a question - "What's got fourteen legs, fourteen eyes, and seven heads?" Middlemiss looks baffled, as if she's witnessing some kind of mental breakdown. "Don't be scared - it's S CLUB 7!"

Song 11: S Club 7 - BRING IT ALL BACK

Oh hell yes this is already awesome. Camera pans out to reveal the telly is part of a massive 'house' staging inside the studio, the seven young poppers chilling on 70s-looking sofas, Jo singing her verse on the landline, the rest reading comedy newspapers ("CANTONA BACK FOR UNITED" haha lolz) and eventually having something of an improptu S Club Party, joyfully miming away as a series of glum old blokes in beige overalls remove the sofas during the chorus. I'm not making this up - this is brilliant stuff, tons of effort put into making a great pop track of the time properly memorable to watch rather than just listen. S Club, you stormed that and that's the most fun I've watched in this show so far.

Next track, says Porter, comes from the "King of the Mambo". But Pérez Prado's been dead for ten years!! Oh, wait...

Song 12: Lou Bega - MAMBO NO. 5

The third biggest-seller of the year appears both live and pre-recorded on a video screen, for reasons I can't quite decipher. Dancers in skimpy Santa costumes wiggle around him as he tells us about the various adventures of Monica, Erica and the rest of the gang. This was another one that became pretty cool to hate, but for me this is still a damn good party anthem from the time - indeed I love how upbeat this whole show is, only Cliff and Martine bringing the tempo down a little and that was an age ago now. No dull pretentious singer-songwriters with guitars ruining the mood, just fun pop and dance all the way - perfect, joyous Christmas viewing, and Mr Bega throws himself into this performance with gusto, probably already realising he was going to be a one-hit wonder so relishing the fame while it lasts.

"Top dancing, there" sneers Theakston, warning that if Granny's been on the sherry already, she's gonna love this next one...

Song 13: The Offspring - PRETTY FLY (FOR A WHITE GUY)

Jesus christ. The crowd, having been fairly polite all show, suddenly lose their minds as the Californian band deliver a brilliant live performance of one of the only big guitar hits of the era, interestingly with the word "Ass" censored out with a sound effect as presumably deemed unacceptable for Christmas '99 afternoon viewing. Band members throw themselves into the audience, the rockier crowd at the front bouncing and fist-pumping like mad to such an extent it's impossible to believe this is the same audience as earlier - indeed I'd assume this was a repeat had Theakston not introduced the track from the other side of the studio. When the massive stage invasion (yep) begins, it's breathtaking, and just for a few seconds - half the audience crammed up on stage, the song deteriorating into a drone of guitar feedback - it looks like the most exciting telly studio in the world to be in. "You boys and girls are very bad!!" exhaustively shouts lead Dexter Holland at the track's conclusion, Middlemiss and Porter wisely introducing the next song from a different part of the set.

"Now I've got five lovely Irish lads for you" desperately pleads Middlemiss as the audience return to their places, but deep down there's a feeling that this episode just well and truly peaked.

Song 14: Boyzone - WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH (THE TOUGH GET GOING)

What looks like a repeat broadcast of their Comic Relief chart-topper, one I assumed was an original hit of theirs at the time - yeah covers are never better than the originals, but I've always been a fan of that bouncy backing track and I don't think they do too bad a job. The boys, coming to the end of their first chart 'era', deliver a far better performance than Westlife earlier - years of hits clearly giving them lots of confidence - and it's hard not to feel a little sad as the late Stephen Gateley begins his verse, the crowd giving him a quick scream of approval.

Back to M & P. "This year has been a great year for country music" Really?

Song 15: Shania Twain - THAT DON'T IMPRESS ME MUCH

Actually her! In the studio!! We're teased with a quick shot of the video on the screen, but the camera pans out to reveal her on a platform centre stage, singing a song that may well have started out as 'country' but this is the dancepop remix much better known over here. Shania was a truly massive star at the time and this really is a brilliant tune, one as a kid I loved. Nice rarely heard cold ending too, instead of the usual fade out.

"Now..." begins Mark Goodier, making me wonder if he's about to break product placement laws, but it's just the 20 biggest selling singles of the year, in the same format as the earlier weekly chart. At 10 is Boyzone, then Mr. Oizo, Shanks & Bigfoot, Cliff, Shania, Ricky, ATB, Lou, Eiffel...and it looks like the biggest seller is going to be saved until the very end of the show.

Our three presenters bid us farewell from the last TOTP of the century. They'll be back in the year 2000, conjuring up a time when the year was an exciting sound of the future rather than a depressing reminder at how long ago those carefree times were. "We hadn't even heard of her a year ago" says Theakston, introducing our sixteenth and final song. "She is the Queen of Pop!". It can only be...

Song 16: Britney Spears - BABY ONE MORE TIME

Ok, yeah, not a live performance, but then that would be a bit too much to ask, wouldn't it? Instead a quick pre-recorded Christmas greeting from Spears herself, followed by an audience-less recording on a plain set surrounded by mini TOTP logos.

Hard to say anything about this one that hasn't been said already - I loved it then and loved it now, absolutely one of the best and most iconic pop tracks of its time and a brilliant way to end what's been a fabulous programme, expertly bringing together the greatest and biggest-selling tracks of a year that, still, is by far the greatest year for music in my ears. I'll remember it forever.

Thanks for reading! This was fun to write, there's a fair few others online so might do another lookback in the future, depending on how long they last before the Copyright Police track them down. Happy New Year!
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Popchartfreak
post Jan 10 2017, 01:06 PM
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Bit of a mixed bag year for me (being so old and all laugh.gif )

Loved Shania, TLC, Offspring, Britney, Ricky, Martine,

Eiffel, Alice, Robbie, Lou were all fine.

The rest though, not a huge fan, and actually hate that Cliff song (speaking as someone who usually loved ol cliffie back in the day). I think it killed his career stone dead, there was no getting over that one laugh.gif
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gooddelta
post Jan 10 2017, 03:15 PM
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I think The Millennium Prayer is possibly my least favourite song of all time.

I like most of the rest here though, my ultimate highlights being Alice Deejay, ATB and Eiffel 65.

Great writeup by the way Billy.
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ChristmasEve201
post Jan 12 2017, 12:07 AM
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Great write up!

I loved the Offspring stage invasion, shows you that guitars still get the people going!!!!!
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Lo-Fi Version Time is now: 17th December 2017 - 04:24 AM