The Story of Pop: 2002 (Chapter 1)

Well a hearty hello to you, as we welcome back an old friend to the blog today after a year’s sabbatical! Starting today, and every Thursday this year at 9am, we bring you The Story of Pop: 2002. It’s our weekly retelling of the sights, sounds and acts who were behind all of the biggest hits the UK charts had to offer us two whole decades ago.

And what a year we’ve got ahead of us – with a hive of chart activity that boasted 30 different number one singles, we’ve got pop, rock, R&B, dance and much more to cover. We’ll be meeting some genre redefining bangers, some all time classics and – major spoiler alert – a fair few amount of artists who got their start from some new fangled thing called reality TV.

But back to today, and for our first 2002 revisitation, we’ve got a truly excellent song from one of 21st century British pop’s greatest female artists to start things off – so let’s meet them, shall we?

  • Artist: Sophie Ellis-Bextor
  • Song: Murder On The Dancefloor
  • Released: 03/12/2001
  • Writers / Producers: Sophie Ellis-Bextor / Gregg Alexander / Matt Rowe
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #2
  • Weeks on Chart: 16

Well this is a pretty lovely place to begin our story! As it recovers from the mania of Christmas and the frenetic sales period associated with it, the music industry in the UK is traditionally always still a bit dormant in the first week of a new year, with hardly any brave souls daring to bring out new material or embark on any major promotional activity. And 2002 was no exception.

What this situation does afford therefore, is a chance for other records released prior to the seasonal japes to gain a second wind – which is precisely what Sophie Ellis-Bextor recieved two whole decades ago this very week. First released at the start of December 2001, ‘Murder On The Dancefloor’ was the second single from her debut solo album Read My Lips.

The first of course, was her reworked version of ‘Take Me Home’ (originally a hit for Cher in 1979) that had hit #2 in August that year, following her chart topping turn as guest vocalist on Spiller’s mammoth floorfiller ‘Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)‘ in 2000. Writing in her excellent book Spinning Plates last year, Sophie said that she knew that she was a very different proposition for Polydor Records, who had signed her to a solo deal off the back of her Spiller success.

Her music career had actually begun prior to that in the late 90s when she was 17, when she had spent a couple of years as the front woman in much hyped Britpop band Theaudience. They were a band who were – to use the terminology of The Times’ music critic Pete Paphides – clever but not quite big, splitting in 1999 after they were dropped from their record label following poor performance of their album and singles.

What that experience taught her was how she could turn “the stuff that used to make me feel different in a bad way” that was popular within music at the time to her advantage, as “the stuff I sought to accentuate to differentiate me from the pack”. It is fair to say that ‘Murder On The Dancefloor’ is perhaps the best example of that ethos at work, and why she got the breakthrough she did after ‘Groovejet’.

It was actually one of the final songs she recorded and co-wrote for the album, along with Gregg Alexander, former lead singer with The New Radicals, who had, amongst other things, co-written ‘Life Is A Rollercoaster‘, which had been a huge number one hit for her Polydor labelmate Ronan Keating.

Sophie’s lyrical input was, she says, “about that moment when you’re out dancing and the night is peaking. I wanted it to be a bit playful and fun.” Certainly, from the minute the song starts, right the way through to its oft quoted chorus: “It’s murder on the dancefloor / But you better not kill the groove / Hey, hey / It’s murder on the dancefloor / But you better not steal the moves, DJ / Gonna burn this God damn house right down”, you get that impression.

It was also reflected in the striking promo video that accompanied the song. Directed by her long time director and collaborative partner Sophie Muller, the clip – which saw Sophie playing a villain in a dance contest, humourously seeing off fellow dancing couples by underhand tactics including poisoned orange juice, knobs of butter and judge bribery whilst donning glittery emerald green eyeshadow straight out The Wizard of Oz – was heavily inspired by a dance competition scene from the Jane Fonda film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

It was something different for the time and showed music fans that Sophie wasn’t your average popstar, and was always keen to do something out of the ordinary in her music and in her visuals. And needless to say, it worked. Like her solo debut proper, ‘Murder…’ had already arrived at #2 on its entry into the UK charts, and spent much of the festive period meandering around the top 10.

But as the Christmas hits recieved their expected sharp drop off in sales with the end of the holidays, it thus sent the single rebounding back to #2, kept only from claiming the number one spot by the return to the top of the very record that had originally held it off – Daniel Bedingfield with ‘Gotta Get Thru This’.

The song quickly became a hit all over the world too, most of all in mainland Europe, where it was the most played song of the year on European radio. And with subsequent success for the follow up singles – the double-A-side ‘Get Over You / Move This Mountain’ (#3 in June) and another Gregg Alexander co-write called ‘Music Gets The Best Of Me’ (#14 in November) – it helped her Read My Lips album to double platinum sales of over 800,000 copies in the UK, also peaking at #2.

But it is this week however, that we toast to the queen of the Kitchen Disco’s biggest and best known hit; for a more sparkly start to 2002 we could not wish for than that from a blast of ‘Murder On The Dancefloor’. We can’t wait to sing along when we see her at Southend in March!

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 2002. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments, Tweet us or message us on Instagram, using the hashtag #StoryofPop2002.

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