The Story of Pop: 1998 (Chapter 10)

It’s Thursday, and time once again for our weekly revisitation upon the UK charts as they looked and sounded a quarter of a century ago, with The Story of Pop: 1998. This week: one of Neighbours‘ biggest exports debunks the “difficult second single” theory…

  • Artist: Natalie Imbruglia
  • Song: Big Mistake
  • Released: 02/03/1998
  • Writers / Producers: Natalie Imbruglia / Mark Goldenberg
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #2
  • Weeks on Chart: 12

Many was the artist in the 90s who released a huge, mega selling and long running hit for their first single, only to then follow it up with one or two that didn’t hit it in anywhere near the same magnitude as that all conquering debut. In fact, it’s probably easier to list the artists who did have a big career after that first single than those who didn’t.

And Natalie Imbruglia probably felt this pressure more than anyone. After all, her first single, “Torn”, released at the tail end of 1997, had been a massive hit in all senses of the word; peaking at #2 here and selling over a million copies, over a quarter of a century on, it still remains an eternal classic radio staple.

Not to mention that, to British and Australian audiences at least, she was still seen as her on-screen character, Beth Brennan, from soap opera Neighbours – even though she had left the role some three years previously, so the juxtaposition of coming from a soap to releasing a very good and credible sounding record was unheard of.

But then, just as she was enjoying the success of “Torn”, and the release of her debut album, Left Of The Middle, it emerged that the song, written by Phil Thornalley, had previously been recorded, first by the Danish singer Lis Sorensen as “Brand” (meaning “Burned”) in 1993, and then in its more well known English version by the Swedish rock band, Ednaswap.

Somewhere along the way, the story then escalated to suggest that either Natalie had written the song or that it had been especially written for her (neither addition to the story was true, as Natalie had never said she’d written it, nor did RCA/BMG, her record company at the time, say that it had been written especially for her).

What resulted was a minor bit of uproar in the pop gossip pages of tabloids and magazines, which with a quarter of a century’s hindsight, was just petty thread picking by the gutter press who couldn’t get their head around Natalie being good at something else outside acting. Speaking on the BBC music programme The O Zone, she said that whilst ‘Torn-gate’ was a bit of a non-story, it did take the sweetness off its success for her a little bit. So it was against this backdrop that her second single, “Big Mistake”, had a very big point to prove.

It was the first of the singles she had a hand in writing for Left Of The Middle, and was co-written and produced by Mark Goldenberg. Speaking in an interview for the album’s 25th anniversary last year, Natalie said “I was so excited to get to work with him, because I loved the Eels.” (The US guitarist and songwriter had produced their album Beautiful Freak in 1996, which had yielded the top 10 hit “Novocaine For The Soul”).

She added “I still remember lying on the floor in his living room, and he was working on the samples and it was just looping around. And I had my dictaphone, and I was figuring out different melodies and lyric ideas … And then I wrote the whole song and was like ‘I’m ready!’ and went in and recorded it and did the vocal. And that’s a really fond memory.”

Musically, with it’s driving guitars and rock influences that put it on a par with Alanis Morissette and Sheryl Crow, the single carries a lot of the same angst as “Torn”, as she sings to a former lover that’s wanting her back that it is too late for apologies and reconciliation: “And you’re down on your knees / It’s too late / Oh don’t come crawling / And you lie by my feet / What a big mistake / I see you falling”.

And when released as the album’s second single in March 1998, “Big Mistake” repeated the success of “Torn”, if in chart position only, when it debuted and peaked at #2. With further singles success coming throughout the course of 1998 with “Wishing I Was There” (#19 in May) and “Smoke” (#5 in October), it all helped the Left Of The Middle album to eventually go onto sell 1.1m copies in the UK alone, and 4 million worldwide – concisely silencing Natalie’s doubters that she was a resounding success in music after crossing over from acting.

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.