The Story of Pop: 1998 (Chapter 18)

Join us as we continue to revisit all the biggest UK chart hits from a quarter of a century ago with The Story of Pop: 1998. This week – a second chart topper for these ladies, offering up two unlikely covers for the price of one…

  • Artist: All Saints
  • Song: Under The Bridge / Lady Marmalade
  • Released: 27/04/1998
  • Writers / Producers: Flea / John Frusciante / Anthony Kiedis / Chad Smith / Karl Gordon / Nellee Hooper (Under The Bridge) / Bob Crewe / Kenny Nolan / Johnny Douglas (Lady Marmalade)
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #1
  • Weeks on Chart: 17

Even with all their success, one thing that All Saints were perhaps more known for, certainly in the first phase of their career, was not so much their unity, but oftentimes the lack of it – which, with the arrival of their global fame, would prove to be something that would ultimately be their undoing.

For whilst “Never Ever” had very deservedly been a huge selling and universally acclaimed number one record, its success – owing to the fact Shaznay Lewis had written it and sung the majority of its lead vocals – began to cause tension between the rest of the group, as has been well documented in the past.

Publicly, however, in the spring of 1998, said tensions had a lid kept on. And so the follow up to that chart topper was one that was to offer something of a sweetener to the rest of the band – specifically to Natalie Appleton and Melanie Blatt – whilst also showcasing some of the versatility that was on their debut album to those who hadn’t yet sought it out.

First released in 1992, “Under The Bridge” had arguably been the breakthrough song for Californian rockers the Red Hot Chili Peppers, reaching #2 on the US Billboard charts and peaking in the UK top 20 in 1994. It was written primarily by their frontman, Anthony Kiedis, about his struggles with recovering from drug addiction and his feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Speaking for a Top of the Pops documentary for the BBC in 2022, Natalie said “I love rock music, so I said ‘Let’s do something rock’.” “When we decided that we wanted to kind of fuse influences of what Nat liked with what we were,” said Shaznay, “I think it worked because we weren’t kind of too hung up on the original.”

Melanie added: “We approached it quite innocently, and I don’t think there was too much thought behind it.” Such was their innocence, (indeed only certain verses and the chorus from the original appear in their version) that it wasn’t until Natalie was informed of what the song was about in a magazine interview, with Nicole Appleton saying “I remember Nat telling me, ‘You know we’re singing a song about heroin?’ and I went ‘No, I didn’t know either!'”

Still, for those rock purists who becried their (actually rather good) take on a modern rock classic as something sacrilegious, it was at least not the only song they decided to cover on this single, as it became a double-A-side effort. Tapping into Melanie’s French roots, the Saints also opted to do a floorfilling, reworked take on the raunchy soul number “Lady Marmalade”, originally recorded by the US R&B group LaBelle in 1974, which was famed for its chorus line “Voulez vous couchéz avec moi, ce soir?”

In another genius move, it was backed by a big budget short film that showcased the two videos for the singles – one for “Lady Marmalade” where they have a party in a top floor flat that’s so loud it literally makes the foundations collapse, and the other for “Under The Bridge”, showing them living in the derilection of the same flat, which was also aired before UK cinema screenings of Quentin Tarantino’s then new film, Jackie Brown.

Royalties from the single were donated to the Breakthrough Breast Cancer charity. It was all these factors combined, plus their standing as the girl group of that moment, that ensured “Under The Bridge / Lady Marmalade” secured All Saints their second consecutive UK number one single – even going back to the top spot on its third week after being knocked off by the record we’ll discuss next week.

They followed it with a third number one smash in September, when the equally saucy “Bootie Call” reached the summit, just as Melanie headed off on maternity leave to have her daughter, Lily. “War Of Nerves” then came as the fifth and final single off their debut album, but only peaked at #7 in November – by which point, the simmering tensions between the group almost bought collapse as they nearly split – before instead deciding to sack their manager the following year, during which time they toured and recorded what eventually became their second chart topping album, 2000’s Saints and Sinners. It was perhaps fortunate, therefore, that the music and goodwill behind them kept All Saints going for as long as they were able to in their first incarnation – and why their music still stands up to this day.

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.

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