The Story of Pop: 2002. It’s our weekly retelling of all the action on the UK singles charts – the hits that blared out of radio station and TV channels, and the stars that made them hits – two whole decades ago, every Thursday at 9am. This week: we take the long and winding road back to our last Pop Idol chart topper of the series…
- Artist: Will Young and Gareth Gates
- Song: The Long and Winding Road / Suspicious Minds
- Released: 23/09/2002
- Writers / Producers: John Lennon / Paul McCartney / Stephen Lipson (“The Long and Winding Road”), Mark James / Steve Mac (“Suspicious Minds”)
- Highest UK Chart Position: #1
- Weeks on Chart: 26
After releasing the two biggest selling singles of the year with their debut efforts after Pop Idol, and following it up with a further chart topper each to their credit, Will Young and Gareth Gates were now moving headlong towards the feverishly anticipated release of their debut albums as the autumn arrived.
If it wasn’t inevitable, then it would surely only have been a matter of time that the bright idea of the year’s two biggest single sellers teaming up would have emanated from the offices of either RCA/BMG or 19 Management. What this single being released did prove was that Simon Fuller and (more so in Gareth’s case) Simon Cowell were leaving nothing to chance. But whilst they had sung together on the show before, the release of a duet single was performing more of a task than may initially meet the eye here.
We’ve touched on the previous Will and Gareth entries that, following the show, an intense debate in both media and public alike was still ongoing about who was going to be the “real” winner in terms of having a career with longevity and sustained record sales beyond the Pop Idol juggernaut from which they had both been launched.
Reality TV is built on the stories of winners and losers, both during and after the series. And whether it’s Pop Idol or The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent, it has to push these stories in order to keep producing those new hopefuls and thus new stars in the audition queues for the next series. And as we’ve seen with Hear’Say and Liberty X (and spoiler alert, we will see again at the end of this series), for both producers and the media alike, their view was that there was to be no room for an equilibrium for them to both stay successful.
Compounding the matter seemed to be, in the eyes of their respective fanbases, that Will, as the actual winner of the show, wasn’t getting half the press attention or mass hysteria that Gareth was. Chart wise, this was reflected in the fact that Will’s two singles had collectively spent five weeks at number one, whilst Gareth’s had held pole position for seven weeks in total. Add into this that both ITV and the BBC respectively had a new series of Popstars (again, more on which later this series) and the Beeb’s own stab at a music reality TV format in Fame Academy launching as the autumn TV schedules got under way, that now was as sensible a time as any to start winding down the perception that both artists were exclusively joined at the hip.
They would have to move on anyway to start establishing themselves as separate artists, with their albums arriving on the shelves. But releasing a duet – as well as embarking on a sold out UK arena tour around the time of its release called, imaginatively, the Will & Gareth Tour, with support from their fellow Pop Idol mate Zoë Birkett – would hopefully offer something to keep both Will’s fans and Gareth’s fans happy, whilst formally closing the chapter on what had been an incredible year for both acts.
First covered by them on Will’s winners show of Pop Idol, The Beatles‘ “The Long and Winding Road” had an interesting story in the context of the Fab Four’s own career. Produced by Phil Spector for their 1969 album Let It Be, it was never formally released here in the UK, but over in the States it was their final single release following their split in 1970, going onto become their 20th and last chart topper on the Billboard Hot 100.
Here in the UK, the only artist who had charted a version of the song prior to then, was Ray Morgan, who peaked at #32 with his version in 1970. In terms of their own back catalogue, it is The Beatles’ eleventh most covered composition, with everyone from Diana Ross to Cher, and Billy Ocean to Tom Jones recording their own takes on it. Surprisingly, whilst not earth shaking, it is a fitting choice of cover, and Will and Gareth’s voices blend pleasingly well together, with each getting an equal amount of vocals.
Such a simple cover required an equally understated video. Directed by Tim Royes, it was a live performance video of Will and Gareth against a black backdrop with minimal lighting, shot in one take at the end of July that year, and was said to have taken inspiration from Simon and Garfunkel’s famous 1981 open air concert in Central Park in New York.
Considering the smoke and mirrors and glamourous video locations of all their releases to that point, whilst this is the rawest visually and sound wise that either Will or Gareth were presented in their post show imperial phases, it works, although that’s mainly because it had to strike a fine and fair balance so that one set of fans didn’t feel hard done by over the other.
Which is why there was a bit of further consternation for fans over the single having double-A-side billing with Gareth’s standalone cover of Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” that he had recorded for the UK soundtrack of the then new Disney movie Lilo and Stitch, which had just come out in cinemas around the time of the single’s release and which thus made it – until the success this year of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from the Encanto soundtrack – the only song from a Disney film to top the UK chart. True, Will’s version of Jackie Wilson’s “I Get The Sweetest Feeling” (which he had performed on the final of the first season of American Idol a couple of weeks beforehand) was on the single too, but it was relegated to B-side status, almost as an afterthought.
All these factors combined meant that, whilst it was still a number one single – thus meaning they jointly secured their third chart topper and fifth combined, a record that was more than any other artists managed in 2002 – it did so with much lower sales of 132,500 copies in its first week alone; a healthy total for a number one single, true, but when your debuts opened with first week sales of 1.1m and 850k respectively, it was always going to pale in comparison.
Spending two weeks at the top, and finishing the year as the 22nd biggest selling single, with this, Will and Gareth began concentrating on their individual careers as their debut albums were finally released. Will’s came first, with From Now On racing to number one in the album chart in mid October, whilst Gareth’s debut, What My Heart Wants To Say, came out at the beginning of November, but just missed out on the top spot to David Gray’s A New Day At Midnight. Both were eventually certified double platinum.
Both their consecutive runs of chart toppers were then broken, as Will’s fourth single, a double-A-side of his own songs “Don’t Let Me Down” and “You And I” to raise money for BBC Children In Need entered at #2 in late November, whilst Gareth’s fourth single and title track from his album entered the Christmas number one race in December and fell some way short, entering and peaking at #5. They would however go onto both top the charts once more apiece in 2003; Will with his iconic “Leave Right Now” from his million selling second album Friday’s Child, whilst Gareth, in collaboration with The Kumars At No. 42, took another cover version – this time of “Spirit In The Sky” – to number one for Comic Relief.
All in all, in just nine months, Will and Gareth had been responsible for shifting 4.7 million singles in the UK – and remember that this was all happening at a time when the cracks in the foundations of the UK being a nation of singles buyers was beginning to show, as the threats of Napster and LimeWire loomed large over the future of the music industry as a whole, at one point nearly derailing it for good. And whilst “The Long and Winding Road” contributed the smallest amount to that incredible total they achieved, it was a fitting closure to one story of the charts from a year that was perhaps the most exciting in all of the 00s for British pop music.
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