The Story of Pop: 1999 (Chapter 21)

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Revisiting the hits and sounds of the UK singles chart 20 years ago, this is The Story of Pop: 1999. This week: the UK’s then hottest new dance music genre around makes a triumphant surge to the very top of the chart via a much in demand floorfiller…

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1999 undoubtedly saw the rise of one new genre in particular here on the dancefloors in Britain. UK garage had been coming up on the rails for some time – starting as far back as ‘Never Gonna Let You Go’, a 1997 top 10 hit for soul singer Tina Moore, quickly followed by Lovestation’s August 1998 top 20 with their reworking of Womack & Womack’s ‘Teardrops’.

The early premise of UK garage was a simple one: a syncopated two step beat, heavy on bass and big on melody from the worlds of R&B and soul. But if there was one record which all but bought the genre into the mainstream, then it’s safe to say that this record was the one to do it.

Steven Meade and Danny Langsman were two producers from South London and were big names on the burgeoning UK garage scene. They had already hit the chart as Doolally, reaching the top 20 in November 1998 with a self-released track called ‘Straight From The Heart’ alongside vocalist Sharon Woolf. Not long after it charted, they released a limited run of white labels to clubs of a track called ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’, this time under the name Shanks & Bigfoot.

With a pressing of only 1000 copies, it became so sought after that there were tales doing the rounds of DJs having knives pulled on them by irate clubbers if they had the misfortune to not have a copy of the coveted chocolate coloured vinyl in their record box. This naturally created a frenzied bidding war in the industry for its commercial release.

Jive Records, who’d already had two of the year’s biggest selling chart toppers in the Steps and Britney Spears singles we met earlier in this series, won the license for it to be released. Building the hype, a series of different remixes of the track were trailed on compilation albums as much as two months in advance of it’s 17th May 1999 release date. Combined with a cute animated video of a little girl in a world populated by Easter eggs, it was clear that ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’ was a bonafide smash hit in waiting.

Once unleashed on the record buying public, the single rocketed to number one in the UK with a sale of three times as many copies as the #2 single the week it made its debut, eventually spending two weeks at the top, twelve weeks on the chart and finishing up as the year’s eighth biggest selling single. Shanks & Bigfoot would make the top 10 again that same summer with a re-release of their Doolally single hitting #9, but their own follow up a year later, ‘Sing-A-Long’, was a disappointment, missing the top 10 and thus confining them evermore to one hit wonder status. But when it’s such a pioneering and genuinely loveable track like ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’, that’s not a heavy cross to bear at all.

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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