Music in the 1990s Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Music in the 1990s

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Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, in her Union Jack dress, poses in front of a picture of Kurt Cobain.

Sandwiched between the Walkman-wearing 1980s and the MP3-sharing Noughties sits the decade of Discman dominance: the 1990s. But in musical terms it wasn't just the people's format of choice that changed dramatically during this time; electronic music became omnipresent and in response British rock enjoyed a bracing revival, while image triumphed over talent and the music industry was caught sleeping as the digital revolution set about demolishing the business model of the old guard.

The New Romantics were dead, the hairy metal bands abandoned chart jostling for touring and the boy bands of the 1970s were revived in the 1990s as ultra-commercial, well-groomed puppets. But where were you when the clock struck Hammer Time? What was Geri Halliwell thinking? And just where did all those DJs come from? Refresh those memories and relive the moments when you thought the charts couldn't possibly get any worse with this potted history of some of the decade's most memorable and miserable musical moments.

Image v Content

You can't sing, you can't play, you look awful... You'll go a long way!
Gavin Richards as a record company executive in a 1984 Kit Kat advert.

When the promoters of Kit Kat passed comment on the music industry of the 1980s, they didn't know just how astute their latest advertising campaign would turn out to be. Pop and PR had always been merry bedfellows, but the 1990s heralded an era where it seemed any marginal outfit with a wallet full of cash could be propelled into the arena of fame. First off the block was Bill Drummond, who had been a major player in the rise of Liverpool music in the early 1980s before producing Scottish girl duo Strawberry Switchblade and reaching Number One with The Timelords and a novelty record 'Doctorin' the Tardis'. With Jimmy Cauty he formed The KLF, a conceptual band that dominated the charts in the early 1990s. Having made the route to Number One look easy1, the band disbanded to focus on the creation of The K Foundation, an art terrorism combo whose most defiant act was to set fire to a million quid.

The KLF's scepticism paved the way for the cynical manipulation of 'pop' as public relations companies bombarded the young and the credulous with ersatz notions of talent, while record companies concocted teen idols based on marketing equations, as we shall later see. By the end of the decade, the mechanisms of this relationship had become so transparent that the record-buying public stopped falling for the barefaced 'advertorial'2 of the music glossies, and even those devoid of technical knowledge knew roughly what was meant by 'ProTooled' and 'key correction'.

R'n'B, Rap, Hip-hop

With its roots in the late 1970s and early 1980s, rap gave impoverished Black America a voice. Fast forward to the 1990s and it became...well, a bit silly. The fantastically-named Robert Matthew Van Winkle - aka Vanilla Ice - was one of the first white rappers to achieve notable success. Responsible for style crimes such as haircut tramlines and goofy, pre-Westwood hand gestures, Ice cut his own kind of cool with the one-hit wonder 'Ice, Ice Baby', which was helped out by a sample from Queen's 'Under Pressure' and which sported the ridiculously un-street lyric, 'Cooking MCs like a pound of bacon'.

'Hammer Time' arrived, more or less, at the start of the 1990s, with Stanley Kirk Burrell - aka MC Hammer3 - parading about in oversized silk slacks and scoring a chart smash with 'U Can't Touch This'. Following bankruptcy, Burrell became a preacher and later went on to host his own obligatory television show.

California's Latin-American hip-hop combo Cypress Hill used the medium of rap to deliver an altogether different message - that bong hits for breakfast were a reasonable pursuit, and that baggy, below-the-knee shorts could reach the height of fashion. Delivered in vocal timbres resembling helium-sucking, nose-pegged madmen, many of the band's songs were lambasted by the media and groups against recreational drug use - no doubt helping them achieve cult status, various awards and even an appearance in The Simpsons.

The reason these - let's call them 'novelty' - acts managed to break through to the mainstream is that hip-hop exploded in popularity throughout the 1990s. At the beginning of the decade, while it had made some inroads into mainstream musical culture it was still primarily a fringe genre; by the end, recordings by hip-hop artists made up the single highest-selling music genre in the western world. With 1980s acts like Run DMC and Public Enemy being considered 'old school', new acts such as the Dr Dre-sponsored Snoop Doggy Dogg, Jay-Z, Nas and the Wu-Tang Clan took hip-hop in a whole new direction.

The major musical movement in hip-hop during the 1990s was the continuing rise of so-called 'Gangsta rap': the stylistic and gang-related differences between artists from the East and West coasts of the United States contributed to verbal sparring and, tragically, the drive-by shootings of popular artists Notorious BIG (from the East) and Tupac Shakur (from the West coast).

Meanwhile, a downbeat variant of hip-hop was being percolated by UK acts whose albums of sample-based, laid-back hip-hop and soul produced the new genre called 'Trip-Hop', or the 'Bristol sound' thanks to its three main protagonists who came from this multi-ethnic, bohemian city. Portishead, Tricky and Massive Attack all favoured ambient rap with smouldering lyrics about romantic and social angst against a background of jazzy horn breaks and off-kilter beats. Portishead's album 'Dummy' was nominated for a Mercury Prize in 1995.

The sounds of R 'n' B continued alongside hip-hop, with acts like Boyz II Men and Whitney Houston (particularly her soundtrack to the film The Bodyguard) providing some light to go with the darkness of gangsta rap and trip-hop. Mariah Carey became the biggest-selling female artist of the 1990s on the back of several multi-million-selling albums in the USA.


Hardly the most alluring name for a musical genre - though apt considering the dishevelled demeanour of its devotees - grunge evolved in the early 1990s from the Northwest American punk scene to become hugely popular with teenagers both in the US and the UK. The term 'grunge', meaning dirty, was coined by the vocalist of Green River (and later Mudhoney), describing a style of music that grew out of indie and thrash metal. Melodies were dissonant, sentiments summed up the disenchantments of 'Generation X' and songs featured soft verses/hard choruses, with guitars squealing feedback, often before being flung across the stage at the end of a gig. Moshing, stage-diving and crowd-surfing were the norm at gigs and plaid shirts, ripped jeans, black leather jackets and checked flannel shirts were the fashion of the day.

Many cite the now-San Francisco-based band The Melvins as the forerunners of the style, with the American city of Seattle laying claim to be the epicentre of activity. Although much of The Melvins' output is characterised by lengthy, wall-of-noise-style guitar fuzz, often with little discernible musical structure, their grinding, powerful compositions paved the sonic trail for catchier, more lyrically orientated guitar-based acts from the area, such as Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains.

Grunge settled on a slower tempo than punk, with its often angst-ridden lyrical content voicing the adolescent discontentment of a generation. Late in the 1980s, bands like Boston's Pixies and Seattle's Soundgarden were doing interesting (and very loud) takes on punk rock. The Seattle scene in particular was buzzing with the likes of Mudhoney and Pearl Jam; when Soundgarden and later, Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Alice In Chains secured major label record deals, the scene was set for an explosion.

For many teenagers, Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' was like a siren going off - a blazing burst of rebellion and guitar riffery that propelled the group into ill-fated superstardom; the single quickly became the definitive grunge anthem. To this day, Nirvana have sold more than 50 million albums worldwide - a figure that might have been unfortunately assisted by Kurt Cobain's suicide in 1994.

In an MTV-led assault on the charts in the USA, Nirvana's second album Nevermind and Pearl Jam's debut Ten sold millions of copies. Record companies scrambled over themselves to sign edgy grunge bands from Seattle and elsewhere; the UK's rock-lovers were converted to the new sound, and the ascendance of grunge in the popular culture continued unabated until Kurt Cobain's death. Nirvana's drummer Dave Grohl went on to front the highly successful Foo Fighters, a rock act with a more consciously upbeat, decidedly ironic approach; not a continuation of the sub-genre that soap forgot

The Grunge wave took American pop culture and, as record producer Gary Smith put it, 'shifted it a few feet to the left.' This opened the door for major label debuts from other acts. Chicago's Smashing Pumpkins proved immensely popular on both sides of the Atlantic, even featuring on the soundtrack to a major Hollywood movie (though we should probably not make too much of that, considering it was Batman and Robin). Although lumped in with the grunge movement, the band had stylistic and geographic differences that set them apart both in terms of the sound they honed and the audience they drew. As well as Smashing Pumpkins, Californian punk bands such as Green Day, the Offspring, Pennywise and, later, the so-called 'nu-metal' rock-rap acts of Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, all emerged in Grunge's wake in the early years of the 21st Century.

The cultural shift also meant that people didn't want their angst solely in a male form: the explosion in female solo artists was undoubtedly popularised by the release of Alanis Morissette's major label debut Jagged Little Pill. This opened the door for the recognition of those that had gone before, principally PJ Harvey and Liz Phair, as well as encouraged major labels to sign new acts such as Fiona Apple. All-woman bands like L7 and Courtney Love's band, Hole, took on a 'Riot Grrrl' ardent feminist approach and pushed their way forward.

British Resistance

Partly as a reaction to grunge, the British artists of the early to mid-1990s became more parochial and looked toward their illustrious forebears. Starting with the so-called 'Madchester' bands encompassing the Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets and the Happy Mondays, they mined the best bits from glam rock and the social commentary of The Kinks, the melodies of The Beatles and the odd acid house-fuelled drum-beat. And, for a while, it seemed as though what became known as Britpop would take over the world.

Though coined by musician and journalist John Robb in the 1980s, it wasn't until the mid-1990s that the term 'Britpop' began to appear almost incessantly in UK music magazines and newspaper columns to describe the resurgence of the UK's alternative rock scene. The bands widely acknowledged to be the movement's main protagonists toed a very British line in their lyrical content: Oasis combined the songs of Slade and Paul Weller to create working class rock 'n' roll anthems in the form of 'Cigarettes and Alcohol' and 'Live Forever'; Blur served up sharp social commentary with 'Girls and Boys' and 'Parklife'; Pulp unleashed a scathing, comical critique of the middle-class with 'Common People', and of 1990s drug culture with 'Sorted for Es and Whizz'; while Suede's 'Animal Nitrate' paraded references to gay sex and drug use into the UK Top Ten during the closing months of 1992.

Drawing influence from a largely British gene pool - bands such as The Smiths, The Jam, David Bowie and The Jesus and Mary Chain - the Britpop scene swam against the rising tide of electronically-programmed grooves and American-influenced grunge. Although the Stone Roses' eponymous album in 1989 is often cited as the first ever Britpop album, its ties to the 'Baggy Madchester' sound separate it from the later Britpop; the music of Blur, Oasis and Suede - along with other contemporaries like Supergrass, Elastica, Sleeper, Cast, Ocean Colour Scene and The Verve - is more indicative of the banner.

Like all good rock stories, the relationship between bands wasn't without its share of animosity. The strained relationship between the two biggest acts in 1995, Blur and Oasis, was blown up by the press into a major battle – one that was exacerbated by Blur moving its single 'Country House' so it would be released on the same day as the Oasis track 'Roll With It.' The resulting race to Number One would eventually be won by Blur, though the Oasis album (What's the Story) Morning Glory outsold Blur's Modern Life is Rubbish four-to-one, spending three years in the UK charts. There'd be further hits for both bands, but arguably neither act would scale quite the same heights again.

Three Lions

A collection of chart-bound sporting songs is a given for any decade, and no musical round-up of the 1990s would be complete without mention of David Baddiel and Frank Skinner's grossly infectious 'Three Lions' mantra. Their collaboration with Ian Broudie of The Lightning Seeds wriggled its way into every nook and cranny of the public consciousness, as the immortal line 'football's coming home' bellowed from pubs and white vans across the land. The jingoistic chant has been attributed as a contributing factor to a shift in the way football was perceived in the UK. After the horrors of the 1980s that led to the mandatory installation of seating in place of the traditional standing terraces, football did indeed come home - though it did so empty-handed; England's national squad failed to win on either of the occasions that 'Three Lions' was appointed the anthem, knocked out of both the Euro '96 and 1998 World Cup tournaments on penalties.

The Dance Music Revolution

Computer games don't affect kids; I mean if PacMan affected us as kids, we'd all be running around in darkened rooms, munching magic pills and listening to repetitive electronic music.
- Originally this much-emailed quip was widely attributed to Nintendo CEO Kristian Wilson back in 1989, though comedian Marcus Brigstocke strongly refutes this, claiming he actually wrote the line as part of his stand-up routine

Links between music and drugs have been well-documented since the 1960s, but the rise in ecstasy use during the 1990s, following the birth of rave culture and the UK free party scene commanded irrefutable influence over the music of the time. The 1980s had seen US club culture infiltrate the upper echelons of the charts with the likes of Farley 'Jackmaster' Funk and Steve 'Silk' Hurley, but many people still saw music 'wholly or predominantly characterised by a succession of repetitive beats'4 as some kind of audio antichrist. Ecstasy changed this: modern 'dance' music5 was everywhere, from raves around the M25 when the decade commenced, to adverts for toothpaste and tinned food products when it drew to a close.

One of the most subversive moments in the history of the UK charts came in September, 1992, when The Shamen spent four weeks at Number One with their nauseatingly anthemic, thinly-veiled ode to E-culture: 'Ebeneezer Goode'.

The refrain of the song goes 'eezer Goode, eezer Goode, he's Ebeneezer Goode'. Do you get it? Es are good, you see. Pulp's front man, Jarvis Cocker, was not exactly impressed: 'I thought it was a despicable record. With a clever play on words they covered the fact that they thought Es were good and got it to Number One...' The BBC banned it, the tabloids hounded the band, and they withdrew the single after four tempestuous weeks. Incredibly the band continued to deny it was a song about ecstasy, although the fact that some of their critics thought Goode was spelled with an E as a drugs reference indicates that they really were stretching it a bit.
An excerpt from BBC Top of the Pops 2's satirical 'Top 5 Drug Songs'.

Two super-clubs soon emerged that attempted to capture the energy of the rave while keeping it all legal; Cream in Liverpool and The Ministry of Sound in London. With dance music in vogue and consequently all over the UK's radio and media, it wasn't long before those who weren't on drugs realised that some electronic music was actually quite good. As its popularity mushroomed, so did the number of musical genres that appeared in record racks at the local HMV. House music morphed into dynamic new forms such as techno, hardcore and breakbeat, with each of these splintering into a myriad of sub-genres. By the mid-1990s, genres that only existed for five minutes already seemed to be fragmenting into sub-genres. As a consequence, promoters began establishing events in nightclubs playing ever-more specific types of music - a U-turn from the start of the decade, when DJs of all inclinations would play in one room, bringing together acid house with early techno, trance and breakbeat styles. Indeed, at the time of writing you'd be hard-pushed to find a club night that just offered 'house' music: instead you must make your choice from deep house, progressive house, hard house, tech-house, glitch-house, Balearic house, French house, Chicago house...the list goes on.

Block-rocking Beats

For dance fance, the decade began with Detroit techno as king in the USA with acid house the elading form in the UK (influencing such crossover acts as the Happy Mondays). However, in terms of record sales, the decade belonged to a sample-heavy form of dance music that was later to be called 'Big Beat'. The mjor proponents of this style were the Chemical Brothers, technopunks Prodigy, Apollo 440 and a former member of the Housemartins, Norman Cook, who performed under a number of different names, though his most enduring has been Fat Boy Slim.


Seen solely as the domain of boozy rockers, ageing punks and dreadlocked truck-dwellers during the 70s and 80s, music festivals such as Glastonbury had well and truly entered the entertainment mainstream by the start of the 1990s, with national television and radio providing coverage of festival performances, often featuring the biggest names in rock, pop and dance music. As new events were spawned each year to satisfy increasing numbers of people who were discovering the virtues of dancing in a muddy field and paying £7 for a plate of lukewarm tofu, many major drinks companies ensured their stake in the circuit by broking sponsorship deals and establishing their own heavily branded events6.

Boy Bands and Girl Power

Anyone who thought 'boy bands' were purely a 1990s phenomenon need only cast an eye back to the 1960s when, put together to star in a US television series, The Monkees became one of the most successful bands of the time. However, from the mid-1990s onwards, the UK chart was so awash with the buttery ballads, catchy power-pop and high octane dance routines of manufactured pop acts, there seemed little room for anything else. And though can look back at 1960s and The Monkees to see the genesis of the formula, the term 'boy band' is forever synonymous with the 90s.

Take That

Like many British trends, the cult of the boy band came from the US courtesy of New Kids of the Block, whose brief reign at the top of the pops bridged the turn of the decade from the 1980s to 1990s. Their success inspired pop promoter Nigel Martin-Smith to create his own version. He took five lads from Manchester - Gary Barlow, Robbie Williams, Mark Owen, Howard Donald and Jason Orange and called them Take That. They spent two years touring schools and gay clubs to build a reputation as a hard-working dance band, with each member styled to appeal to different tastes.

The band barely entered the charts with their first three releases, but in May 1992, their cover of Jonathan King's 'It Only Takes a Minute' breached the hallowed Top Ten and was quickly followed by a string of Top Twenty hits. The band reached the Number One position in July 1993 with 'Pray', and went on to achieve a further seven Number One hits.

Despite enjoying a total of more than 20 weeks at the top of the chart, Take That never achieved a Christmas Number One, though they came close in 1993 with 'Babe,' only to be knocked off the top slot a week early by one of the decade's best-forgotten chart wildcards, Mr Blobby. Their plans went awry in 1995, when the band's most charismatic member, Robbie Williams, set about crucifying his presentable public image by living up to the roguish rock 'n' roll stereotype7. With Robbie no longer in tow, the band continued as a chart-topping four-piece before announcing on 13 February, 1996 that the group was to disband. Their final single, 'How Deep is Your Love', released a few weeks later, sat at Number One for three weeks. As the four remaining members headed off along new career paths8, the fallout proved too much for many members of their fan base - so much so, the Samaritans even set up phone lines in order to console them.

East 17

Other boy bands who cashed in on the girlie teenage craze included (the not-so-squeaky-clean) East 17, Irish quintets Boyzone and Westlife and, from the USA, the Backstreet Boys, N Sync and Boyz II Men.

Hailing from less than glamorous Walthamstow in East London, four cheeky lads known collectively as East 17 (named after their postcode) countered the clean-cut credentials of Take That with a more 'street' approach to song-writing and the cultivation of a more arrogant, unruly group persona.

In early interviews they made a point of behaving badly, with incidents including pinching female journalists' bottoms and revelling in flatulence.
The Encyclopaedia of Popular Music.

Brian Harvey, whose hard-edged rapping style saw him evolve as the band's lead vocalist, committed industry hari-kari9 in 1997 when he extolled the merits of ecstasy use to the nation, claiming he necked 12 pills in one night and 'was all the better person for it'. Needless to say he was sacked from the band following unanimous condemnation from the media and the government. Fellow songwriter Tony Mortimer also left, with the remaining members deciding to call it a day two years later.

Irish Eyes are Smiling

Not to be left out, in late 1993, club-owner Louis Walsh invented an Irish counterpart in the form of Boyzone who went on to achieve four Number One albums and six Number One singles. Boyzone's Ronan Keating later went on to 'manage' the even more successful boy band, Westlife10. The sisters of one member of Boyzone later formed their own 'girlband', B*witched who scored a Number One with their first four singles, following in the footsteps of an even more successful all-female band.

Spice and a bit of Zig-a-zig Ah!

In 1996, pop manager Simon Fuller unleashed his canny commercial creation in the form of five vivacious irreverent women nicknamed Scary, Sporty, Baby, Posh and Ginger - aka the Spice Girls - who, against all probability, ambushed the charts with their assertive pop smash, 'Wannabe'. Ten years down the line and scholars worldwide have failed to impart much wisdom on the phrase 'zig-a-zag ah!', but few pundits would contest the band's commanding cultural influence during the decade. Prepubescent girls across the UK were engulfed in Spice mania, as the larger-than-life quintet took their vivacious vision of girl power to the masses. They broke records by getting their first six singles to Number One, with nine Number Ones in total, including three consecutive Christmas chart-toppers.

The Spice Girls were excellent! Their CD was the first I ever bought, and on my 11th birthday me and my friends dressed up as Spice Girls and made our own video. I was Emma. Oh, the shame! Equally shameful is the fact that I still remember every single word from every single song...
An h2g2 Researcher

The band sold in excess of 55 million records, conquered America, released a comedy feature film - Spiceworld: The Movie - and received a slew of awards, including four Brits. Indisputably the most outspoken member of the group, Geri 'Ginger' Halliwell parted company with the band in 1998, signifying the beginning of the end11. Halliwell, along with Melanie 'Sporty' Chisholm, subsequently enjoyed some success as solo artists - in fact, combining their time together in the Spice Girls, in terms of chart weeks, these two women are the most successful British female recording artists of all time. Their fellow band-members also enjoyed varying degrees of success, while Victoria 'Posh' Adams went on to marry the footballer David Beckham, achieving further notoriety as the archetypal 'Footballer's Wife'.

(Don't) Fade Away

Though new acts appeared all the time, in the UK at least it was a time for reflection as the end of the century and the millennium gave cause for many to look as much to the past as the present. In October, 1990, the Righteous Brothers scored a Number One single in the UK charts with a song that they'd recorded nearly 30 years before and which had previously been a UK number one in 1955 for Jimmy Young. Thanks to its iconic use in the romantic supernatural blockbuster Ghost, 'Unchained Melody' became an unexpected chart success all over again, and not for the last time actors Robson Green and Jerome Flynn performed it in an episode of the drama Soldier Soldier. They were instantly targeted by Simon Cowell12 to record the song as a single. The actors reluctantly agreed - and promptly scored the first of three Number Ones as a duo (plus a very successful album of 'old favourites').

The 1990s will certainly be remembered for pop's staying power, no matter how hard we try to forget. The biggest Number One singles of the decade were all from artists who'd achieved chart success in the previous decade: Canadian musician Bryan Adams clung to the Number One position for 16 consecutive weeks with '(Everything I Do) I Do It for You'13; Scottish pop act Wet Wet Wet hogged the top slot for 15 weeks with a cover of The Troggs' 'Love Is All Around' (and no doubt this would have been longer, had singer Marti Pellow not done the decent thing and deleted the single to avoid the band becoming too synonymous with a song they didn't write); while American pop/soul songstress Whitney Houston achieved a ten-week stint with 'I Will Always Love You'. Thankfully these weren't all released in the same year, or three sickly sweet songs might have clogged up a whopping 80% of the year's Number One slot.

There was, however, a common thread inb this commercial success: these were all lifted from the soundtracks of major box office smashes (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Bodyguard and Four Weddings and a Funeral). For better or for worse, a lucrative new dawn had arrived in the history of the motion picture soundtrack album - further evidence that the music industry was becoming increasingly financially reliant on franchise initiatives.

With Shakespear's Sister, Celine Dion, Meatloaf and Cher also sitting at the top of the charts for seven weeks, record industry bosses began to panic that opportunities for (and let's not mince words here) making money were being lost because acts stayed at Number One for just too long. This log-jamming of the charts was brought to an end when the record companies decided to change the way records would be marketed. Instead of giving promotional copies to the radio stations in time for the song's release, songs would begin to build up a 'buzz' a month or even two months prior to release. This resulted in many more songs zipping up to Number One, staying for a week or two then plummeting out again. The days of the 'highest new entry' and the notion of a song entering the chart and then climbing were apparently over. Shows like Top of the Pops were suddenly ruined because their whole format was based on differences in chart movement and now all they could do was feature the acts likely to be at Number One next week. It would be more than a decade (thanks to the inclusion of downloads) before the charts would behave with any kind of unpredictability again.

My favourite band, Iron Maiden, started the decade still perceived as gods by many, despite releasing what in my opinion is their worst album ever (No Prayer For The Dying). They even had their first Number One single from that album - two weeks in December 1990, no airtime from Radio 1, lowest ever selling Number One single [up to that date] at 10,000 units. When Bruce Dickinson left the band in 1993 and Blaze Bayley joined, there was a backlash [that] could be attributed to people's changed attitude to Heavy Metal as much as to loyalty to their old singer. [But] certainly, the two Bayley albums were the lowest charting in the band's career. There was a definite change of attitude when Bruce came back in '99.
An h2g2 Researcher

Michael Jackson also enjoyed further success with his albums Dangerous and History (the latter being a partial greatest hits collection with additional new tracks), Madonna's Ray of Light became one of the biggest successes of her career, while rock band U2 began their rise to global domination. Hugely prolific singer Elton John surprised many when it was revealed that his 1990 double-A-side 'Sacrifice'/'Healing Hands' was actually his first solo Number One single, while the tragic death of Diana prompted him to re-write and re-record 'Candle in the Wind', which went on to become the biggest-selling single in UK chart history up to that point. Sir Cliff Richard also bookended the decade with Number Ones, 'Saviour's Day' in 1990 and 'Millennium Prayer' in 1999, making him the only artist to have achieved Number One singles in five consecutive decades, giving longevity a good name. And even death didn't stop Elvis Presley from being one of the most prolific artists of the decade with 42 album re-releases.

Of all the great talents to have passed on during the decade, perhaps none left their mark as deeply as Freddie Mercury, the inimitable frontman for rock band Queen, who died on 24 November, 1991, after a long battle with AIDS. The band's most famous song, 'Bohemian Rhapsody' was re-released and was at Number One at Christmas, 1991, just as it had been back in 1975. By being Number One at two different Christmases, 'Bohemian Rhapsody' became (to date) the only song to be at the top of the charts across four years: 1975 - 6 and 1991 - 2.

'If Only We Could Make You Understand...'

And what would the music world be without the novelty acts, the One-Hit Wonders that light up the sky like a flame (but inexplicably fail to live forever)?

They ranged from songs from cartoon characters (Bart Simpson's 'Do the Bartman', several by the Smurfs, and South Park's Chef with 'Chocolate Salty Balls'), to ones with annoying but compulsive dance moves ('The Macarena'). You could have a hit when you were fictional and made of rubber (Mr Blobby and the Teletubbies) or if you were Swedish but just pretended you were an American hillbilly (Rednex with 'Cotton Eye Joe'). You could have a hit by licensing your song in a Levi's commercial (most notably Babylon Zoo's 'Spaceman' and Mr Oizo's 'Flat Beat'), or by having your song given the Fat Boy Slim remix (Cornershop's 'Brimful of Asha').

1He even wrote The Manual - a guide on how to have a Number One single, which offered readers their money back if they followed the advice and didn't get a hit. An Austrian band called Edelweiss followed it with success...2An advert disguised as an article.3The 'MC' part was later dropped when people began to refer to him as McHammer.4The description famously used by the 1994 Criminal Justice Act.5As opposed to any other music composed throughout history with a view to facilitating dancing.6The following decade has so far witnessed mobile phone companies competing with the breweries for global domination of festivals and other music events.7Williams famously joined Oasis onstage during the 1995 Glastonbury Festival, where he is alleged to have 'overdone it' on the partying front.8In 2006, the band (minus Williams) unveiled a new studio album.9His comments could have worked the publicity machine to the band's advantage, had their audience not had an average age of 13.10Though his management was later revealed by Keating himself to have been no more than a publicity stunt.11In February, 2001 the band announced they would be taking a break to work on separate projects, although they never officially broke up.12A music industry mogul who would later achieve notoriety as the bitchy judge on such talent shows as Pop Idol and The X Factor.13The longest unbroken period at Number One in the history of the UK charts.

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