Well hello to you and happy start to this Platinum Jubilee weekend. This week’s The Story of Pop: 2002 is quite fitting therefore – as it comes from an artist who was at the celebrations for the Golden Jubilee exactly two decades ago this very week…
- Artist: Will Young
- Song: Light My Fire
- Released: 27/05/2002
- Writers / Producers: The Doors / Absolute
- Highest UK Chart Position: #1
- Weeks on Chart: 24
Many are the artists throughout music history – particularly ones who are making their debut – who’ve probably scratched their head in disbelief after seeing a single or album of theirs go to number one, and wondered aloud ‘Just how on earth do I follow that?’
We suspect that in June 2002, Will Young was no different, except his asking that question was probably a little more loaded. As there was the small matter of the fact that his debut number one hit after winning Pop Idol, “Anything Is Possible / Evergreen” was not only the biggest seller of the year, but of the 21st century so far, having notched up sales of well over 1.2 million inside a month.
The pop reality TV genre was still in its infancy at this point in 2002, but for all the way it captured the public imagination and viewing / voting figures, long term there was still a bit of guesswork involved, and no act from these shows had yet emerged with prospects to last the distance. It was still seen as a novelty. Fortunately for Will – and for his now manager Simon Fuller – there was at least a precedent of how not to capitalise on months of primetime telly and mass media exposure.
True, Hear’Say had had initial massive success, but as we discussed on the entry for Liberty X a couple of weeks ago, the wheels came off their bandwagon alarmingly quickly, the seeds of which were arguably sown just at the point they were breaking through as the first series of Popstars drew to a close.
The first was for them to perform at the BRIT Awards before their first single, “Pure and Simple” was released. Although not heard on the TV broadcast, they were met with a volley of boos from the audience on the night (most of which were by those in the music industry), disgusted at the way that a band that was unproven in success had what they viewed as a free-for-all pass to perform on the biggest awards show in the music calendar before actually making any achievements of note.
The second was to release their debut album, also called Popstars, just mere weeks after their first single. Whilst that too was a huge and fast seller, it did mean that further singles would have, commercially speaking, already shot their bolt by being available on an album that had also shifted 1.4 million. And whilst “The Way To Your Love”, their second single, was indeed another number one in July 2001, it had got there on a tenth of the half a million sales that their debut had opened with, and was also the last of their career. There wasn’t many other places they could go from there, but down.
Sensibly, under Simon Fuller’s guidance, Will opted for neither a BRIT Awards appearance or a rush released album. He understood the assignment that, regardless of winning a show like Pop Idol, the hard and serious work was for him, only just beginning. So after completing the sold out Pop Idol arena tour with the other ten finalists in the spring that year, it was onto making his debut album and recording his second single.
Had he not won, “Light My Fire” probably would have been the most obvious choice for a debut single. Although originally a hit for The Doors, it had been covered by numerous artists, including Amii Stewart and Shirley Bassey, whilst Will’s version leant more stylistically to the bossa nova and jazz led rendition, first recorded in 1968 by the Puerto Rican guitarist and singer, José Feliciano.
This was undoubtedly the song which was Will’s signature golden moment throughout his time on the show; it was what he performed in the final 50 heats where he famously stood up to Simon Cowell (what we will forever call his ‘Annabel get the shotgun’ moment), and which he then performed again to wondrous effect during the semi final. It marked the moment he became a serious contender, in any case.
Production duties on Will’s version of the track came from Absolute, the production duo of Paul Wilson and Andy Watkins, who had worked on numerous other music projects of Simon Fuller’s, including the Spice Girls and S Club 7. They bought a smooth and swinging production that whilst contemporary, sounded like it could have come straight out of the 60s.
This was also reflected in the monochrome promo video, which saw Will and a group of bohemian looking friends at a summer garden party of an “It” girl, inspired in part by Edie Sedgwick, who was one of the famous muses of pop art pioneer Andy Warhol. This stylistic choice was proof, even in a gentle about turn, that Will was very much in charge of who he was ultimately going to go on to become as an artist in his own right, even whilst still relying on covers at this point in his career.
Promotion was also pretty understated: just the right amount to let people know he was back with the follow-up, but not to saturation point. With his cards played right, Will’s second consecutive number one single was all but assured, and upon release “Light My Fire” stayed at the top for two weeks, just as he also made one of his first performances before royalty at the Party at the Palace concert for Her Majesty the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. All that remained was to see if, with his Pop Idol contender in tow for his next single, he could make it three in a row. More on that of course, 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 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.