The Story of Pop: 1998 (Chapter 7)

Continuing our weekly revisitation of all the biggest hits of the UK charts of a quarter of a century ago, every Thursday at 9am, this is The Story of Pop: 1998. And, well… when you combine one epic ballad from the soundtrack to an equally epic film, you know you’re talking a 90s classic…

  • Artist: Celine Dion
  • Song: My Heart Will Go On
  • Released: 09/02/1998
  • Writers / Producers: James Horner / Will Jennings / Walter Afanasieff / Simon Franglen
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #1
  • Weeks on Chart: 22

If there were two elements of pop culture in the 90s that were as symbiotic with each other, it was the pop charts and the soundtracks of hit box office movies. You cast an eye over the list of bestselling singles of the 90s in the UK, and just over a third of the decade’s top 10 bestsellers were from the soundtracks of equally huge films.

You had The Righteous Brothers‘ “Unchained Melody” from Ghost in 1990, Bryan Adams‘ record breaking sixteen week opus “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in 1991, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” from The Bodyguard in 1992, and Wet Wet Wet’s equally long running multi-week chart topper from Four Weddings And A Funeral, “Love Is All Around”, in 1994.

And whilst we’ll encounter a few handful of other songs from the movies over our look back on the charts of 1998, none was quite so colossal as this. Originally scheduled to come out for the summer blockbuster season the previous year, Titanic was the three hour plus epic romance disaster film by James Cameron, the director of Terminator and Aliens, that told the fictional story of two star crossed lovers from different classes, Jack and Rose (played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet), on the maiden – and only – voyage of the fated titular ocean liner, which met it’s watery end in one of history’s biggest peacetime maritime disasters after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean in April 1912.

High on special effects and equally big on the drama, it took the combined force of two film studios, 20th Century Fox and Paramount, and a cost of almost $200m, for it to finally come to the big screen; first in North America in December 1997, and then to the UK at the end of January 1998. To say there was a lot riding on the film, which, like it’s subject, was deemed “unsinkable”, is to put it mildly, and studio executives were nervous about how it would perform.

The largely orchestral soundtrack, composed by James Horner, was to be released by Sony Music’s Sony Classical label, who were rather hoping that it would include a contemporary pop song at the end, something that Cameron was reluctant to have as he felt it was inappropriate. But nevertheless, a musical motif used throughout the film had lyrics written for it by Will Jennings, with additional production by Simon Franglen and Walter Afanasieff – which became “My Heart Will Go On”, a reflective and emotional ballad written from the point of view of Winslet’s character, Rose, and the memory she keeps of Jack from their short time together.

When it came to choosing a vocalist for the song, only one lady was deemed big enough to take on what became this most famous of movie ballads, and that was Celine Dion. However, she was equally reluctant to record it, and little wonder; two of her previous biggest hits, “Beauty and the Beast” with Peabo Bryson and “Because You Loved Me” had both been from the soundtracks of the Disney film of the same name and Up Close and Personal respectively. She understandably wasn’t keen on being pigeon holed as a movie balladeer.

But her husband, René Angélil, convinced her to record the demo. Tommy Mottola, then president of her record label Epic, said that what was heard on the final version was the original demo vocal, and was recorded in one take. Horner chose his moment to play Cameron the finished version, and fortunately, though grudgingly, he greenlit “My Heart Will Go On” for the soundtrack, reasoning that it might appease those nervous studio executives as he “saw that a hit song from his movie could only be a positive factor in guaranteeing its completion”.

And as audiences for Titanic began to sell out, and the film quickly found itself amassing a stack of awards, including four Golden Globes and eleven of the fourteen Academy Awards it was nominated for, demand too, grew and grew for all things Titanic – the soundtrack included. Originally entering the UK album chart at #29, it quickly rose to number one a couple of weeks later, becoming the first orchestral original score to top that particular chart.

“My Heart Will Go On” – which was also added to Dion’s then current studio album Let’s Talk About Love, followed as a single in mid-February 1998, and also sailed straight in to the top of the singles chart on first week sales of 234,000 copies to give Celine Dion her second UK number one single, following 1995’s “Think Twice”. And as the film kept on breaking new box office records, as people went back to see it again and again, the single stayed in the top 10 here until the beginning of May, and spent five months in total on the charts, even returning to number one on its fourth week, after holding at number two behind the next two records we’ll discuss.

With sales to date of over 2.1 million copies in the UK alone (and 18m worldwide), it not only made her the first woman to have two million sellers in UK chart history, but for most of 1998, it was the year’s biggest selling single, only finally conceding to an even bigger record we’ll discuss much later on this series in the final weeks of the year. But whatever your views were on Titanic – tragic love story or sentimentalism crassly attached to a real life tragedy – no one could deny what a phenomenon both the film and “My Heart Will Go On” were; the merging of two pop cultural outlets that created a moment so many people wanted to make part of their lives that the UK charts don’t bear witness to as regularly these days.

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 1998. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments, Tweet us or message us on Instagram, using the hashtag #StoryofPop1998.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.