Revisiting all the biggest hits and hitmakers of the UK charts from twenty years ago, as we do every Thursday at midday, this is The Story of Pop: 2000. And when we say we’ve got two songs to cover this week, you know it’s going to be an epic entry. Brace yourselves as we cast our eye back over the epic chart battle of August 2000…
By the summer of 2000, the remaining quartet of the Spice Girls were still together, albeit not yet fully publicly, as they toiled away at work on their third album in the UK and America (however, major spoiler alert, we do meet the fruits of their eventual labour later on this series).
In the meantime, the only fix of chart based action from the Spices was coming from their solo efforts that they were fitting all of this around. But the one girl who had yet to step out on her own, was the one they called Posh. Victoria Beckham had spent much of the last year and a bit happily settling into married life with footballer hubby David Beckham and being a mum to Brooklyn (who, if you want to feel really old, pop fans of a certain age, i.e. mine, is now 21 and engaged himself. Let that sink in).
At this point, Victoria was in danger of becoming more known for who she was married to – this was the start of the media’s obsession with “Posh’n’Becks”, as they were colloquially known – than what her main source of fame had been to begin with. But whilst she’d slowly been dabbling in the beginnings of a solo album, nothing was ready for the world to hear just yet.
So that was one problem. The other was that she was often – unfairly – regarded by Joe Public as the weakest vocally, a bit of a spare part member compared to the in-yer-face brashness of Geri Halliwell or Mel B, the powerful lungs of Melanie C, or the cutesy sweetness of Emma Bunton. Whenever she decided to launch solo, therefore, it needed to make as big an impact as possible.
Enter the True Steppers. Comprising UK Garage producers Jonny Lisners and Andy Lysandrou, they were looking for a female vocalist to come on board for their second single, called “Out Of Your Mind”. It was a follow up to their debut hit “Buggin'” with former Another Level hunk Dane Bowers, which had been a top 10 hit that April.
Victoria saw it as a perfect opportunity to take her first steps away from the other girls. They even planned the single’s promotion with finely executed precision, including releasing the single as a white label promo to radio stations first, with no mention of Victoria (which led to some DJs erroneously speculating that it was Madonna on the new True Steppers track).
Once unveiled as the other guest vocalist with Dane, the single was premiered with a show stopping performance at that year’s Party In The Park concert at London’s Hyde Park for The Prince’s Trust to a raucous, much talked about reception, with Victoria’s new Matrix inspired look featured there and in the video making the cover of every newspaper and gossip mag in the land for weeks afterwards.
As airplay and promo steadily grew in strength ahead of its release on Monday, 14th August 2000, most, Victoria included, were feeling confident of the chance of ‘Out of Your Mind’ being a huge number one. This plan, however, had reckoned on without one crucial fly in the ointment: the combined force of a 6 ft 5 Italian DJ and producer, and the daughter of a former Blue Peter presenter.
Said DJ, Cristiano Spiller – or Spiller, for short – had been causing a stir in clubland since that year’s annual Winter Music Conference earlier in the year. This is an annual event every March, held in Miami, that the cream of the dance music world descend on, in hopes of finding and licensing the next big club anthems.
One found that year was on Spiller’s The Mighty Miami EP, which was ‘Groovejet’, an instrumental track sampling an old Salsoul 70s lost gem by Carol Williams called ‘Love Is You’. Pitched around to various songwriters, it was former Mud guitarist Rob Davis (also one of the writers of ‘Toca’s Miracle‘ we met earlier in the series) who wrote and composed a melody and lyrics to go over the top of it.
It was pitched around to a few different people to record vocals on – at one point, Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne was set to do it – before it landed at the feet of Sophie Ellis-Bextor, who had been lead singer with recently defunct Britpop band Theaudience. Her ice cool, breezy detachment in her vocals elevated the song – now known as ‘Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)’ – to something approaching classic status.
When Victoria was told that ‘Out of Your Mind’ was being released the same week as this massive dance anthem, she was also told in no uncertain terms that her, True Steppers and Dane didn’t stand a chance. But they couldn’t put the release back a week, because of a verbal agreement with Melanie C, who had released ‘I Turn To You‘ the week before. Put it forward a week, and she’d be up against the act we discuss next week.
There was nothing else she could do, except put everything into her quest to grabbing a solo number one. What followed was a blitzkrieg round of promo up and down the country, with Victoria (usually accompanied by either her hubby, David, or Dane, who had rather become the forgotten party in all of this) performing, signing or interviewing to any record store, live outdoor roadshow or even the most tinpot of local radio stations that would have her.
The tabloids, following all of this, were not amused, and led a wave of antipathy, claiming midweek that Victoria was ‘desperate’ to get to number one. Add into all of this some (at the time) rather catty soundbites from Sophie Ellis-Bextor that had been obtained (‘I feel like saying if you want it, just have it … I would like to think the outcome of it all is not determined by this week’s result alone’), and who the media discovered made Posh look more like an EastEnders barmaid, and was actually posh, that thus a new chart battle was being followed daily: Posh vs Posher.
‘Out Of Your Mind’ was, at each of the daily updates, leading in the race for the top spot, albeit by a margin of about 5000 copies that meant the race was almost too close to call. And even though CD:UK, the Saturday morning pop show on ITV declared it as an all but confirmed chart topper on their ‘Saturday chart’ (essentially a slightly rebranded set of midweeks) this didn’t include sales for that day, which had to be added to the official chart when it was revealed to the nation on Sunday afternoon.
And it was on the Saturday of that week that Spiller and Sophie took a 10% lead of 20,000 more copies. ‘Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)’ was thus crowned the UK’s official number one single, with a sale just a little over 200,000 copies. True Steppers with Dane and Victoria were at #2 with ‘Out of Your Mind’, having sold a mightily impressive 180,000.
But of course, that wasn’t the focus where the media at the time was concerned. A #2 for a debut release by a solo Spice Girl was in their eyes, a massive failure, with their agenda subsequently pushed onto the wider public who thus decided that Victoria Beckham, the solo star, was a talentless has-been with a husband more famous than her, who was never going to happen thank you very much.
But – and we say this unreservedly so even 20 years on – Victoria actually produced some of the most solid and consistent solo material of all the Spice Girls, with her debut solo album in 2001 and three more singles all reaching the top 10, before she finally threw in the towel with music for good in 2004. She could easily have been the British answer to Jennifer Lopez under different circumstances. But that’s a debate for another blog.
Still, she has carved out and found her successful career in fashion since, and positive reappraisal of her solo work by many outlets online – amongst them, the brilliant Right Back at Ya podcast and Can’t Stop the Pop blog – has seen to it that she has now been retrospectively viewed in a more positive light for her solo music.
And as for Sophie? Well, it was the start of her solo career that she continues to enjoy success with to this day. ‘Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)’ has found popularity again in recent months, thanks to her live ‘Kitchen Disco’ sessions every Friday on her Instagram during lockdown which she performed it on, and which has now birthed her forthcoming greatest hits album, Songs from the Kitchen Disco, due for release in October.
So to this week, we remember the great big chart battle of August 2000, possibly one of the few examples from a decade where the single would largely struggle, that the charts really did matter to all at one point in time. All that remains is to ask you which side you were on with twenty years’ distance – Team Groovejet or Team Out of Your Mind?
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.