#BlastfromthePast: The Record of the Year

Televised phone voting contests are just a natural part of the British viewing landscape now. But 20 years ago, the Eurovision Song Contest excluded, they weren’t. That was, however, until the very channel who’s been the home of so many of them, launched a brand new annual music show.

Created and devised by the same team who’d put together the ‘Song For Europe’ voting shows that decided the British Eurovision entry during the 90s, The Record of the Year was a brand new British music award with a twist. Chiefly, a winner decided not by the CEOs in suits, but instead entirely by the public. 

How it worked was usually like this. Every December, a list, excluding any duplicate features, of the year’s top 20 selling singles in the UK were drawn up. From this list, the public first voted on a final 10 to put through to a live final on ITV the following weekend, where the ten finalists would appear in either performance or video form before the public chose a winner via telephone (and later internet) vote, the results of which were announced in a seperate show later that night.

Former The Big Breakfast Essex babe Denise van Outen hosted the show for its first three years from 1998. Over half a million voted in the first poll that year, which saw Boyzone come out tops with their million selling chart topper ‘No Matter What’. Of course, being a show voted for entirely by the public, it usually left the mark wide open to the vote being swamped by nominated acts with more, to put it politely, ardent fans.

How else does one explain then, that the artist who has won the award the most times are Irish stool sitters Westlife? Their creator and A&R, Simon Cowell frequently cited the show as the reason he got into judging on TV. Of course, many decried the fact they won so frequently as them winning it with a dreary cover single that had been out for all of two weeks by the time the final was on air, and which was nowhere near the year’s actual bestseller, making the official chart rundown of the year on BBC Radio 1 a more accurate reflection. Heat Magazine even cattily dubbed the show as ‘Westlife Record of the Year’ in 2004. Miaow!

Still, the show shared a lot of parallels with Eurovision. A visitation round by round of all the ITV regions to collect the votes. Block voting from certain regions for certain acts (especially true of the Northern regions like Granada and Yorkshire, who always voted strongly for the likes of Robbie Williams or Gareth Gates). And Ireland (or in this case the stool sitters) winning every year and being royally bladdered by the time they came to perform their winning song (even if 10 year old me didn’t like the last bit at all).

Still, there were occasional glimmers of justice done at the hands of the voting public. At the third time of asking, S Club 7 finally romped to victory at the 2001 ceremony with their number one hit “Don’t Stop Movin'”, having been beaten twice in previous years. When you see the carnival-esque spectacular they put on, it’s little wonder they finally won. Ant and Dec became its hosts for that year and the 2002 ceremony.

Their former SMTV colleague, Cat Deeley then took up the mantle for the 2003 and 2004 ceremonies – the latter of which saw Busted win the title with their song from the Thunderbirds movie. A year later, as Vernon Kay hosted the 2005 ceremony, Westlife won for the fourth time, a decision that just proved to be one bad choice from the public too far for the award’s creators, who hoisted it off the air.

The award continued to be given out via an online only vote from 2006 onwards, with the final prize being handed out in 2012. So as the BBC still wheel out the Sports Personality of the Year, and the BRITs become an even less inclusive representation of popular music, is it time to bring back The Record of the Year for next Christmas? We think so. So long as Westlife aren’t in the running…

What are your memories of this week’s #BlastfromthePast? Tweet me now @ThePensmith10 using the hashtag #BlastfromthePast or leave your comments below!

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