The Story of Pop: 1999 (Chapter 13)

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Flashing back to the UK chart hits of a time when wrap around skirts and trousers were an in thing and when The Blair Witch Project haunted cinema goers with wobbly camera angles and bobble hats, this is The Story of Pop: 1999. This week – a monster chart topper courtesy of a well known jeans brand and a yellow gopher puppet…

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We saw that the TV ads for Peugeot cars had a hand in taking Lenny Kravitz to his first number one a few weeks ago on this series. But one well known brand with an impressive strike rate of taking songs to the top of the charts in the 90s were Levi’s Jeans. There was always a big fanfare around the epic new commercials when they started airing on TV, not least because of the choice of music that accompanied them.

Narrowly speaking, the tunes used to fall into one of three categories: the tried and tested reactivated favourite (Ben E. King’s ‘Stand By Me’, Steve Miller Band’s ‘The Joker’), an obscure lesser starred hit that went no further (Prince Buster’s ‘Whine & Grine’), or a track from a completely unknown band that promptly went stellar (Babylon Zoo’s ‘Spaceman’). It was the latter category that this week’s song fell into.

For their new ‘Sta-Press’ range of jeans, the accompanying advertisement was put together by French film director and music producer Quentin Dupieux, operating under his stage name of Mr Oizo. Given its first terrestrial UK airing during the ad breaks for coverage of that year’s Brit Awards, it featured a man driving an old Cadillac whilst his (apparently mute) yellow puppet friend, ‘Flat Eric’, tapped along to a thumping, bass driven electronic dance instrumental on the in-car stereo.

Almost immediately, demand grew firstly to know what the track was, and secondly when could the record buying public get their dirty mitts on it. ‘Flat Beat’ was its name, and although widely dismissed by some as a mark of what it stood for then of any musical merit or significance it might have had (one critic cattily suggested achieving the same effect by trying to play a CD-Rom in a conventional home Hi-Fi system), there was no denying its wide appeal.

The present writer is fairly certain that we even bought a Flat Eric puppet from Woolworths at one point. This was a marker, if any, of how big things like this could get in a pre-internet and on-demand telly age, when advertising campaigns like those for Levi’s had the power to reach cultural ubiquity that many dream of achieving today, however short term it may be.

Either way, there was certainly little to stop ‘Flat Beat’ once it was fully released on 22nd March 1999, and it duly raced to number one the following Sunday with sales of over a quarter of a million copies in its first week alone – going onto shift at least half a million all told to be the 9th biggest selling single of that year.

Don’t forget to follow our playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 1999. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments or Tweet us, using the hashtag #StoryofPop1999.

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