Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Rating The Comic Relief Singles For No Particular Reason

# Co-o-o-o-mic Relief / Send! Send! Send! / them some beef...

Thus went the classic original theme for the much loved charity which sadly never was padded out to become a worldwide smash for Richard Curtis and The Stonkers. When that first live Comic Relief telethon took place, I was only seven years old but my memories are of it being the most unspeakably exciting day - even the year my school were sent too few red noses for each kid and I had to wear a pinkish cardboard egg carton segment on my fizzog for the rest of the day. Even better, that night on telly was going to be all comedy, which I was already becoming obsessive over.

I didn't know that Lenny Henry, Jonathan Ross and Griff Rhys Jones were considered the "alternative" in 1988. I doubt I even know what "alternative" meant. It just meant a very silly day at school plus lots of funny stuff on telly, a feeling that stuck with me for many years right through to middle school. I bought the noses, I bought the comic and of course, I bought the singles...right up until 1995. Whether it was becoming the inevitable awkward teen I cant say but come the big event that year I remember the feeling that something wasn't quite as fun anymore. The TV show was slicker, it was more part of the establishment and, worst of all, the official single was rubbish. Love may have built a bridge that year but it was a bridge with a lot of grey sensible cars on it.

Still, it raised money for good causes and the single releases were still a huge part of getting advance excitement going for the event with lots of fun from watching the hip comedy people of the time making cameos in the videos, like Adam and Joe with Boyzone, even if you weren't interested in the song. Things changed in 2015 when the official single wasn't announced until several days before the event. And this this it? (Those of nervous disposition please look away now...)

Two things I struggle to understand the appeal of there as Ed Sheeran joins the cast of BBC Three's fairly obscure pirate radio comedy "People Just Do Nothing" to a song. The sketch they collaborated on has been on iPlayer for a fortnight but I'm not sure if there's been a release or not and considering right now two thirds of the UK Top 20 is Sheeran anyway, it may have slipped down a boring ginger crack in the charts. I hope it does really well for the charity and its good to see them incorporate a comedy act for the first times since the Kumars and Gareth Gates became the most "alright I suppose for 2003" double bill. I also hope it makes lots of money for great things. As long as I don't have to listen to it...

In the spirit of fun and wild eyed nostalgia, I've gone though all the official Comic Relief single releases (stand down "Glasses" by Chris Jarvis) and ranked them in nothing more than personal preference. And we start with...

22. Sam Smith and John Legend - "Lay Me Down", 2015
Chart Position: No.1  

A ballad as you'd much expect that combination to provide but not even anything approaching a new song either - being Smith's first release from his multi million selling album way back, 2013. But of course this is a different version because its got John Legend on it and as such sounds...pretty much exactly the same. But this time there are some African children in the video.

21. The Wanted - "Gold Forever", 2011
Chart Position: No. 3

I don't hate this song, I want to be quite clear. I'd have to have absolutely any memory of it for that to happen.

20. One Direction - "One Way or Another (Teenage Kicks)", 2013
Chart Position: No. 1

Ignoring for the second the stomping over two pop masterpieces from the back end of the 1970's, the reason this single truly made my stomach churn was its overly cosy David Cameron cameo in the accompanying music video. One of the most important parts of Comic Relief despite how little we might appreciate them bringing us down are the appeal films. And whilst its African projects that get remembered most, it was always the reports from home that got me most - helping the homeless, those in drug rehabilitation, runaway kids, people in desperate circumstances - putting money towards worthy community projects. All things put under risk by Cameron and his legacy of post-Brexit piss. Still, he pulled a funny face in the video so that's alright then.

19. Cher, Chrissie Hynde, Neneh Cherry and Eric Clapton - "Love Can Build a Bridge" , 1995
Chart Position: No. 1

Initially an American country hit for mother-daughter duo The Judds in 1990, before several people who should know better (and Eric Clapton) got the dubious honour of recording the charity’s first non-comedy single in 1995. It lasted just one week at the top before being usurped by the equally austere ballad "Don't Stop (Wiggle Wiggle)" by The Outhere Brothers.

18. Westlife - "Uptown Girl", 2001
Chart Position: No. 1

The Irish unpleasantness’ ninth single and fourth cover version by that point, this managed just one week at the top of the charts - four less than Billy Joel’s original - although that was still enough to become Westlife’s biggest selling single of this decade and the 23rd most successful UK single of the 2000s. It is, of course, shit and the "posho bullies" that the Westlifes teach a lesson seem awfully similar to some Bullingdon club members of recent past...

17. Boyzone - "When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going", 1999
Chart Position: No. 1

Boring, obvious and recorded by a band three seconds away from imploding but we should be grateful it wasn't a ballad. Notable that their only other half-decent single was also not a ballad - the jolly "Picture Of You" from 1997, taken from the soundtrack to the film "Bean" co-written by...oh, Richard Curtis. How coincidental. Bonus points for featuring Harry Hill (with badgers!), Adam and Joe and the much missed Mel Smith (and equally sadly gone Stephen Gately) in the video.

16. The Saturdays - "Just Can't Get Enough", 2009
Chart Position: No. 2

I'm fond of Depeche Mode but what a baffling choice of record for a modern pop act to cover (perfectly fine as it goes.) Did they literally just pick up a copy of Now Thats What I Call Some Eighties, Mam and throw a dart? Could they not at least have picked "Shake The Disease"? I like that one.
15. Geraldine McQueen and Susan Boyle - "I Know Him So Well", 2011
Chart Position: No. 11

When Kay created the sex-change pop wannabe Geraldine for his 2008 "Peter Kay's Britain's Got the Pop Factor... and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly on Ice" special on Channel Four, it just about managed to cling on and work as a pastiche of the talent show output, despite not being nearly as savage as it could've been. Two reasonable top five singles as Geraldine (both co-written by tax cheat Gary Barlow) later and the joke was thankfully put to bed before it got too tiresome. Except for this cover which fell out of that bed gasping, bloated and screaming "I CAN DO AN EIGHTIES TOO, MAM!" You also know exactly what to expect from this duet with real reality show success story Boyle and the video which premiered on Red Nose Day 2011 is more or less a shot for shot pastiche of the 1984 original and seemed to exist more for Kay's fun than any real charitable or musical reasons, which probably explains its relatively poor chart showing. Still, "Car Share" was good at least, eh?

14. Gareth Gates and the Kumars - "Spirit in the Sky", 2003
Chart Position: No. 1

After all my harping about "bring back the comedy element!", I should sit in my Kumars bath and suffer it. Its not like I especially liked or disliked Sanjeev Bhaskar's fake family chat show, it was just standard, average telly, with additional celebrity obsession. Spirit In The Sky is an oft covered song and almost always finds itself stripped of the swirling psychedelia which made the original so interesting. A few extra sitars aside, that's pretty much the case here as already floundering Pop Idol runner-up Gareth "Gaz" "GG" Gates took main vocal duties as the Kumar family said their catchphrases such as "what time is the Grimleys' on?", "I hope its chips for tea" and "when's Kulvinder Ghir coming back?"

13. Sugababes vs. Girls Aloud - "Walk This Way", 2007
Chart Position: No.1

If I could walk that way I'd...sorry. A pretty weak cover all in all that gets a moderate pass due to both acts being pretty damn great throughout the years. Happily for Comic Relief, it would be knocked off the top spot by this next song, which would also outsell it by over double the amount...

12. The Proclaimers featuring Brian Potter & Andy Pipkin - "(I'm Gonna Be) 500 Miles", 2007
Chart Position: No. 1

Another one that premiered on the night itself and with a famous video featuring a host of nearly-forgotten celebrities, this is yet more Peter Kay in the pop charts although its probably safe to assume that Proclaimers superfan Matt Lucas was probably more instrumental in its choosing. It sounds bloody awful in audio-only form but its hard not to grin as the assembled guests go mad, including the ace, fantastic and top Frank Sidebottom.

11. Vanessa Jenkins and Bryn West featuring Sir Tom Jones and Robin Gibb - "(Barry) Islands in the Stream", 2009
Chart Position: No. 1

One that hinges rather distinctly on whether you liked "Gavin and Stacey" or not. I thought it was bloody wonderful even if the wheels do slightly come off in the third series. The video is fun as the in-character Ruth Jones and Rob Brydon go on a trip to Vegas for the "World Karaoke Championship". The production on the song is fairly average (sorry, the late Robin Gibb) but both actors can sing and there's a real charm to it all.

10. Smear Campaign (Bruce Dickinson, Rowan Atkinson, Angus Deayton) - "(I Want to Be) Elected", 1992
Chart Position: No. 9

Released during one of its “off years” to coincide with the General Election, this caught the Mr Bean zeitgeist at its peak (Indeed, several months earlier a peak of 18 million had tuned in for the character’s fifth TV outing "The Trouble With Mr. Bean"). The electoral theme even extended to the B-side entitled “The Manifesto” in which Mr Bean lists a number of things that will change under the Bean Party banner.

It goes without saying that this isn't a patch on the original, which feels like someone had decided to take The Stooges and make them commercial. Whereas this is just a baffling colour-by-numbers version with a character who's funny because he doesn't talk, erm, talking.

9. Absolutely Fabulous (Pet Shop Boys, Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley) - "Absolutely Fabulous", 1994
Chart Position: No. 6

Another off-charity year record which seems to have just been done as a bit of fannying around in the studio as Tennant repeatedly sings the show and record's title over a bunch of clips from the series, all taken from episode one of series one. The original CD single featured a rare chance to get a copy of the series' theme tune "This Wheel's On Fire" as covered by Julie Driscoll and Adrian Edmondson on the B-side although this was quickly removed due to copyright issues and replaced with the PSB's own "Dull Soulless Dance Music Mix" of the song.

8. Right Said Fred And Friends - "Stick It Out", 1993
Chart Position: No. 4

Not a particularly great song and the one which ultimately killed the comedian-fronted singles but look past the awful early 90s production and there's still a lot of pleasure to be garnered from the genuinely eclectic line-up which is listed on the cover officially as...

...or Laurie, Cook, Freeman, Holland, Coogan, Anderson, Robson, Quirke, Fairbrass, Manzoli, Brush and Cribbins to you squire. If people do remember this, its Hugh Laurie shouting "Building! Building!" which is legitimately funny the first time you hear it. Likewise, a pleasure to see Peter Cook front and centre if heartbreaking to realise he'd be dead before the next Red Nose Day rolled round. 

7. McFly - "All About You", 2005
Chart Position: No.1

AKA Their only good one.

Whilst Busted always managed to sneak into my earbuds after a few listens, I never really got McFly outside this record which is probably the last really good original Comic Relief single. Quite a fun video too with brief glimpses of a still-on-Popworld Simon Amstell and Harry Hill as a security guard. Plus Kate Thornton for no reason than for my friend Tim. The other side was a cover of "You've Got a Friend" which returned us to dull but worthy territory.

6. Tony Christie NOT featuring Peter Kay - "Is This the Way to Amarillo", 2005
Chart Position: No. 1

Yes, its 'im again but although he's in the iconic (if now unshowable post-Yewtree) video which helped propel this 1971 hit back into the charts where it became the 3rd best seller of the entire 2000s (after Will Young and Gareth Gates' post Pop Idol hits "Evergreen" and "Unchained Melody") its the original recording which Kay has thankfully bugger all to do with. And its still bloody great.

5. Mel & Kim (Mel Smith and Kim Wilde) - "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree", 1987
Chart Position:  No. 3 

Because I miss Mel and this still sounds wonderful nearly thirty years on. Plus the Griff cameo joke about "pricks" that nearly made me choke when a Christmas CD compilation we had at my old work came on every day to the cheerful oblivion of the old ladies in the building.

4. Hale and Pace / Victoria Wood - "The Stonk" / "The Smile Song", 1991
Chart Position: No. 1 

Of all the comedy singles people remember, this one seems to be remembered extremely negatively. It could be because Hale and Pace long outstayed their welcome on Sunday nights with sketch shows that were increasingly more and more bland. Perhaps its down to it featuring SERIOUS ROCK superstars David Gilmour and Brian May playing along to the lyrics "stick a red nose on your conk" or could be the fact that the other A-side was the ignored yet absolutely wonderful "The Smile Song" featuring the peerless Victoria Wood's original song, featuring spoofs of Janet Jackson, Kylie Minogue, Pet Shop Boys, Snap!, heavy metal and various other genres.

I have a very soft spot for The Stonk though as it was on my very first Now compilation (Now 19, disc 1 - just between Kylie and 2 In A Room). And its got Funny Ert Newman from The Mary Whitehouse Experience team looking mortified in the video. READ MY LIPS I'M A STONKER.

3.  Spice Girls - "Who Do You Think You Are", 1997
Chart Position: No. 1

All out brilliant proper pop and one of the most successful Comic Relief records ever released, which is all the more impressive for the fact that it had been available on the “Spice” album since November the previous year. (Yes can still piss off though, Sam Smith...) And the UK video comes with an ace free French and Saunders sketch! More on them in a minute...

2. Cliff Richard and The Young Ones - "Living Doll", 1986
Chart Position: No. 1

The one that started it all and still an incredibly funny song despite Cliff apparently being a miserable bastard about it from start to finish. An utter phenomenon then and something that still seems exciting, a little dangerous and hilariously awkward all these years on. GET DOWN!

And of course there's the B-side...

1. Bananarama & Lananeeneenoonoo (French and Saunders with Kathy Burke) - "Help!", 1989
Chart Position: No. 3

Back in "the day" (the mid to late eighties to be more precise), my Dad would tape any decent music performances that cropped up on the box - invariably Top Of The Pops, The Chart Show and the random old shite ITV used to put out as lunchtime filler when Neil Buchanan or Gaz Top had buggered off home on a Saturday afternoon - "America's Top 100 Greatest Music Top 40 20 10" or "Lovely Hot Europe Chart Sponsored By Maxell". It was on one of these VHS tapes that I first heard 1989's Comic Relief single, "Help" courtesy of the second-wind Bananarama and Lananeeneenoonoo or Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and an almost-mute Kathy Burke who had debuted the girl group (complete with superb "Jimmy Mack" reworking) in a mock documentary sketch during the second run of French and Saunders' BBC2 series.

Not knowing who these "Beetles" were who'd done it originally, I was immediately taken with this brand new song and chuckled away in my nine year old's world at the video when they'd fall off the scooters. So, you can imagine my excitement come several days later when the headmistress started playing it in assembly to get us excited for the second Red Nose Day the following Friday. (She also once played us "Caravan Of Love" by The Housemartins and to this day I've absolutely no recollection why.) Its funny, its great pop music and its unlikely to ever be beaten as the greatest Comic Relief single of all time. And that is all of the Comic Relief singles ever. Goodn-


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