If you’re after another visit in our pop Tardis back to a year of multiple chart toppers, UK garage and pure pop ruling the waves, then buckle in, because we’re about to supply it right now with another instalment of The Story of Pop: 2000. This week: a controversial chart topper from Britain’s biggest solo male of the 21st century…
No bones about it: Robbie Williams was all but the most popular male solo artist in the UK – and indeed throughout Europe – come the dawn of the new millennium. It was a feat that just a few years ago, when his post-Take That solo career had stalled slightly before ‘Angels’ literally saved it, seemed unthinkable.
So after two multi million selling solo albums, expectations were high for his third, Sing When You’re Winning, which he was readying for release in August of that year. We’ll meet two of its singles over the course of this series, both of which generated a fair level of controversy for their own seperate reasons.
“Rock DJ” was the first sign from Robbie that he was moving away from the Britpop stylings of Life Thru A Lens and I’ve Been Expecting You. A chunky, part rapped disco funk party jam, referencing both Ian Dury and the Blockheads and A Tribe Called Quest, it had his signature cheek and bravado all over it.
First released to radio at the end of June, it’s chart topping status was pretty much guaranteed when he delivered the video exclusive to the BBC’s long running chart music show Top of the Pops. The full video wasn’t played pre-watershed, and it soon became apparent for why.
We’ve placed the performance he did for TOTP here in place of the actual and very not NSFW video (it’s midday on a Thursday before you ask why we’re not including it. Have some dignity). Said video saw Robbie take a strip tease – via a now infamous pair of tiger motif underpants – to the next level.
Banned by many TV shows and music channels – even those who chose to air it only did so late at night – it proved that bad press was good press where Robbie was concerned, and that he could get away with pretty much anything at this point in his career, such were his levels of popularity.
Once unleashed to the shops on 31st July 2000, “Rock DJ” was the fastest selling single of the year at that point, giving Robbie his third UK number one and shifting just shy of 200,000 copies in its first week to do so, eventually winding up as the year’s fifth best selling single.
The Sing When You’re Winning album followed it to the top of the album chart a month later, going onto shift over 2 million copies in the UK alone, with “Rock DJ” winning a clutch of BRIT and MTV awards in the year that followed. And there’s more to come from Robbie – and a special guest – later in the series…
Don’t forget to follow our brand new playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 2000. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments or Tweet us, using the hashtag #StoryofPop2000.