The Story of Pop: 2002 (Chapter 4)

How do! It’s Thursday, it’s 9am, and thus time for us to board for our weekly trip back to the UK charts of two whole decades ago with The Story of Pop: 2002. Now, we’ve had three ladies opening this series so far, but this week we’ve got something for the ladies – or at least, the boyband loving contingency of them. Read on…

  • Artist: A1
  • Song: Caught In The Middle
  • Released: 21/01/2002
  • Writers / Producers: Ben Adams / Paul Marazzi / Chris Porter / Rick Mitra / Mike Hedges
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #2
  • Weeks On Chart: 18

From their debut in 1999, Anglo-Norwegian boyband A1 had firmly established themselves as one of the country’s fastest growing pop acts with every release. After launching with a clutch of top 10 hits off their debut album Here We Come, their breakthrough into the big leagues had come in 2000, with a couple of back-to-back number one hits with their cover of A-Ha’sTake On Me” and their own “Same Old Brand New You”.

With a gold selling second album The A List and a coveted BRIT Award win in 2001 for Best British Breakthrough, everything seemed to be flying for them. However, it was after the release of that album’s third single, “No More” (#6 in February that year) that tragedy struck, when, following a promotional visit to South East Asia, where their popularity was off the scale, a mall signing in Jakarta had to be cancelled after four fans were crushed to death in a stampede.

They understandably took some time away for the rest of 2001 to try and process the unfortunate events that had occurred. What it did also afford them was an opportunity to reflect and re-evaluate where they stood as a band.

What many people didn’t realise was that they had co-written many of their songs, and played their own instruments, a fact that had been lost under the colour coordinated outfits and jazz hands dance routines of their initial releases.

They had also come in for a hefty amount of stick as a result for being as poptastic as they were – most infamously from Oasis’ Noel Gallagher for their BRIT win (to whom they recorded and dedicated a cover of “Don’t Look Back In Anger” in response. Smooth). As they got to work on their third album, they decided it was time to take more control creatively over their sound and style.

Working with Chris Porter, who had Take That, George Michael and Sir Elton John on his CV, and Mike Hedges, whose credits included U2, Manic Street Preachers, Travis and Texas, they started to move towards a more organic sound of guitar fed pop. For most pop bands, particularly boybands, that attempt to, as the saying goes ‘mature their sound’, is usually considered the kiss of death. But not for A1 – certainly not initially, anyhow.

When they finally did step back into the spotlight at the start of 2002, guitars and pianos aloft, they did so with what would prove to be the biggest hit of their career. We’ll not be shy about what we say next; for us, “Caught In The Middle” is one of the finest pop songs of the last two decades. Even though there is a marked turn towards a more adult contemporary sound here, it is done with effortless ease, whilst maintaining their ear for a good pop hook and sensibility.

The chorus alone is to them what “I Want It That Way” is to Backstreet Boys or “Back For Good” is to Take That, a thing of finely crafted pop art: ‘Things are so different now you’re gone / I thought it’d be easy I was wrong / And now I’m caught in the middle / Even though I’m with someone new / All I can think about is you / And now I’m caught in the middle’.

Strange to relate then, that it almost didn’t end up happening. Speaking on ITV2’s The Big Reunion in 2014, Ben Adams from the band noted that they hadn’t even considered it for a single, saying ‘That track took us all by surprise. I had written it with (band member) Paul, and I didn’t believe it was a single, but then Sony Music turned around and said ‘Right, “Caught In The Middle” is going to be your first single, and we don’t care what you say’, and thank God they did … so when we were able to show and do what we had wanted to do from day one, and it was accepted, and not only accepted but it was huge, we felt vindicated to our critics, like ‘We told you we were great, so why did you give us so much shit?”

Kept from the top spot only by the artist we’ll be discussing next week, the single stormed into the UK charts at #2, and also became a huge hit around the world, including countries that had previously overlooked them, including America and France. However, in a twist of fate, the success was not to continue for the rest of the third album, named after the album’s second single, “Make It Good”.

That single fell short of the top 10, entering at #11 in May, whilst the Make It Good album, despite being decorated with their best reviews to date, only made the top 20 in June, before disappearing after a three week stint. Compounded by growing tensions that saw Paul Marazzi quit the band in August of that year, by the end of the year the remaining trio of Ben, Mark Read and Christian Ingebrigtsen had parted ways.

However, after reuniting as their trio formation, first in Norway for two albums from 2009, and then for that second series of The Big Reunion eight years ago, they have since reconciled and returned as their full lineup and still regularly gig and perform to this day, and 2022 is set to mark the release of brand new material and a new UK tour in September. So here’s to “Caught In The Middle”: one of the greatest pop songs of the modern era. Fact.

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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