The Story of Pop: 2002 (Chapter 50)

Welcome to our penultimate look back on the UK singles chart movements of two whole decades ago, with this week’s instalment of The Story of Pop: 2002. This week: the biggest boyband of the moment team up with pop royalty…

  • Artist: Blue feat. Elton John
  • Song: Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
  • Released: 08/12/2002
  • Writers / Producers: Elton John / Bernie Taupin / StarGate
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #1
  • Weeks on Chart: 20

In just over 18 months, Blue had emerged as the biggest boyband in the UK for some time. Their debut album All Rise had topped the charts, selling over a million copies and spawning four top 10 hits – including two number ones with their cover version of Next’s “Too Close” and “If You Come Back” – as well as winning a BRIT Award for Best British Breakthrough, and selling out their first of three huge arena tours of the UK.

Add into this that they were forever the favourites and subject of the teen mags and red top tabloid gossip columns, and they were inescapable. By the autumn of 2002, it was second album time for Antony Costa, Duncan James, Lee Ryan and Simon Webbe.

One Love was a decidedly more harder, hip hop and R&B centric affair than their debut, and would also cement their position within the pop world, when it too topped the album chart and sold over a million copies inside a month after its release in November.

The first single and title track from the album had been a #3 hit at the end of October, just held off the top spot by Justin Timberlake and Nelly with Kelly Rowland, and it was still making its way down the chart when, seven weeks later, the album’s second single and the first bid of their career to be the Christmas number one was released.

And it was on this single that they teamed up with a very big name indeed, that underlined just what a huge deal they had now become. When the second album was being readied and recorded, Hugh Goldsmith, the boy’s A&R and exec of their record label, Innocent, felt that what was missing was a cover version. It was a valid suggestion; after all, one of the biggest singles off the first album had been a cover.

It was whilst all this was being discussed that Lee piped up and suggested doing a cover of “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word”, a 1977 hit for his hero, Sir Elton John. Speaking on ITV2’s The Big Reunion documentary in 2013, Antony said “I remember we were all saying to Lee ‘Oh shut up, don’t be so stupid’. A) The geezer probably doesn’t even know who we are, B) He ain’t gonna give us the song and C) As if he’s ever gonna duet with us!”

But as it turns out, he was incorrect on all three counts. Because Elton DID know who they were; in fact, in a new interview with 1883 Magazine this year, Antony said that they’d found out the All Rise album had been one of Sir Elton’s favourite albums of 2001, adding “hence why when we approached him, he jumped at the chance to collaborate. He told us to enjoy it and that we were good at what we do.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 1 around the time of the single’s release, Elton said: “They had cut the track for their album already, and they said ‘Would you just come and play on it?’ So I went down to the Town House recording studio [in Shepherd’s Bush, London], and played on it – it was very simple. And then they said, ‘Could you sing on it?’ and I thought ‘How could I resist’?”

Performed together only at the video shoot for the single and on a select number of joint TV appearances – largely owing to both Blue and Elton’s availability, as the former were on their UK tour at the time of the single hitting the shops, and the latter was promoting a then newly released greatest hits album – it solidified that Blue were really at the peak of their powers.

Originally peaking at #11 for Elton upon its first release 25 years previously, the new duet of “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” pushed aside Eminem’sLose Yourself” the week before the Christmas chart to give him his fifth number one. and Blue their third chart topper from their first six singles. And whilst it only held on there for a week, it still spent an impressive 20 weeks on the chart, and they ended 2002 having sold another 1.6m albums and well over half a million singles.

Such success saw them pick up a second BRIT Award trophy at the 2003 ceremony, where they won Best Pop Act (and also open the show with a performance of “Riders”). And whilst this single is, to date, their last UK number one, the lads are still together and releasing music, with their seventh album Heart and Soul hitting the charts this year, and they’re also currently in the middle of another UK tour.

And Elton has had continued success of recent times too; his The Lockdown Sessions album was a bestseller last year, whilst the single “Cold Heart” with Dua Lipa was also a chart topper, and he duetted with Ed Sheeran on his Christmas single that topped the charts. And next year will see his final UK show of his farewell tour take place at Glastonbury Festival in June.

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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