The Story of Pop: 1998 (Chapter 21)

Continuing to revisit and retell the story behind the year’s biggest chart hits from 25 years ago, this is The Story of Pop: 1998. And this week, we ask one of the charts’ most important questions of that year: what is she gonna look like with a chimney on her?

  • Artist: The Tamperer feat. Maya
  • Song: Feel It
  • Released: 13/04/1998
  • Writers / Producers: Michael Jackson / Jackie Jackson / Steve Gittelman / Jim Dyke / Falox
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #1
  • Weeks on Chart: 19

One thing that is certainly clear from our look back at 1998 so far is that the new chart movement, whereby singles could oftentimes, with the right level of promo, hype and airplay behind them, find their way straight in at the top of the charts on their first week, was well embedded for at least the next four years.

But just very occasionally, there were some singles which played the long old game of gradually climbing to the summit – as indeed this week’s record did, which started with two Italian house music producers, Alex Farolfi and Mario Fargetta, known as The Tamperer. It was Alex who had paid a visit to the Mecca of dance music, the Balearic party island of Ibiza, back in 1997.

He noticed that the crowds were going wild for one club DJ in particular playing “Can You Feel It”, the old 1980 disco hit by The Jacksons in his set. Back home in Italy, he and Mario got to work in their studio putting together a song which sampled its famous driving piano, trumpet and church bell riff.

They realised it worked very well with the vocal line from a little known New York house track by Urban Discharge, the somewhat acidly titled “Wanna Drop A House (On That Bitch)”, which had failed to make the UK top 40 on its release two years previously, in 1996. Written and sung by US dance vocalist Heather Leigh West, it immediately caught the attention for it’s unusual chorus line of ‘What’s she gonna look like with a chimney on her?’

As is often the case with dance tracks, getting the samples cleared meant that it was one of the few dance records that wasn’t receiving club play at that time, but was instead getting early radio support, including that, crucially, of Radio 1’s then dance guru, Pete Tong, on his Essential Selection show, who played a different remix of The Tamperer’s track, simply called ‘Feel It’ every week for over a month.

Eventually, whilst the Jacksons sample was cleared, the Urban Discharge one was still a stumbling block. Enter New York based Maya Days, a singer and acclaimed Broadway actress, who re-recorded a near note for note perfect vocal, whilst adding a suitably camp and theatrical touch to proceedings. With this now in place, the single was licenced for UK release to Pepper Records, the new dance division of Jive Records, credited to The Tamperer featuring Maya.

Upon its mid-April 1998 release, it debuted at a very respectable #3. Over the course of the next six weeks, it then began a consistent if up and down chart run inside the top 5, dipping to #4, then climbing back to #3, dipping down again to #5, and then reversing up to #2. And even though its weekly sales were at the lowest they’d been in its run to that point – just a little over 48,000 – a quiet week for new releases meant that ‘Feel It’ was finally able to ascend to number one.

Staying on the chart for 19 weeks, it eventually went onto be one of 1998’s top 20 biggest selling singles in the UK, shifting over half a million copies. But no one hit wonders were The Tamperer and their new friend Maya.

In November, they made the top 3 again, this time on the cheekily titled “If You Buy This Record Your Life Will Be Better”, which sampled the melody line from Madonna’s “Material Girl”, although their album, titled Fabulous, failed to chart here, but made the top 50 in New Zealand.

After Maya then took 1999 off to star in the Broadway version of Rent, they then beat Madge herself to the feat of sampling ABBA’s “Gimme Gimme Gimme” by six years, utilising the keyboard riff from that song on their final top 10 single, “Hammer To The Heart”, which made #6 in January 2000. But it is undoubtedly The Tamperer and Maya’s canny reworking of a disco classic in ‘Feel It’ that put them on the map and created a golden floorfiller for years to come.

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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