Rik Mayall's World Cup anthem: Campaign is latest in string of attempts to resurrect old songs
The late comedian's fans started an online campaign to get his song "Noble England" to No 1 in the singles chart this week
When a much-loved figure passes away, the public outpouring tends to follow a certain trajectory. RIP tweets are sent out, stirring quotes are shared and appropriate clips uploaded, as his or her followers try to acknowledge the impact that the deceased's life had on their own.
But when Rik Mayall died this week, his fans found a whole new way to pay tribute to the comedy star. After news broke of his death, some enterprising devotees started an online campaign to get Mayall's little-known 2010 World Cup anthem, "Noble England", to No 1 in the singles chart.
Despite having a video that sees The Young Ones comedian dressed as Saint George, performing an amended version of the speech from Shakespeare's Henry V ("Once more unto the pitch, dear friends") over blokey football chants, the track failed to chart first time around. (Although, it has to be said, it's a bit of an ugly cacophony. Rik, you were a genius. But this might not have been your finest hour.)
The campaign joins numerous recent attempts by members of the public to resurrect an old song and use social media to propel it into the Top 40. The most famous example is surely the successful crusade to drive Rage Against the Machine's 1992 rap-metal tune "Killing in the Name" to Christmas No 1 in 2009, preventing The X Factor's Joe McElderry and his cover of a rubbish Miley Cyrus song from taking home the prize.
The campaign was the brainchild of Jon Morter, a part-time radio DJ, and his then wife. Now he runs a social media company called Big Other, which handles similar campaigns. Although Morter is involved with the Mayall campaign, he says that he did not start it.
"A lot of people had the same idea at the same time, it would seem," says Morter. "A number of Facebook groups sprang up and someone added me as an administrator on one, so I joined in. I love Rik, I was a big fan. Let's give the song the credit it deserves and give him a good send off." The track is at No. 3 on iTunes (and was 38 in the mid-week charts). But Morter points out that other singles had a two-day head start, so a Top 20 finish would be a good result.
Another recent success was the bid to propel "Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead" to chart glory after Margaret Thatcher's death last year. Opponents of the "Iron Lady" managed to push the track to No 2.
But not every online campaign does so well. After Nelson Mandela died in December, a Facebook group tried to drive The Specials' "Free Nelson Mandela" to the top of the charts. It only managed No 96. Perhaps it was the public backing by the likes of John Prescott that put people off.
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Similarly, Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs Robinson" failed to chart in 2010, despite a social media campaign for the public to buy it in the wake of the sex scandal involving Iris Robinson, the wife of Northern Ireland's First Minister.
So what exactly makes a successful campaign? "You have to capture the public's imagination," says Morter. "You can't just say, 'Here's a song; let's get it to number one.' You have to give people a reason. Rage Against the Machine was a protest. For this one, people want to publicly acknowledge how much Rik meant to them."
Other advice that Morter offers would-be chart hijackers is to gauge initial reaction on Twitter, where anyone can potentially see your mission. If there is sufficient interest, then start a Facebook group.
And despite social media being key to spreading the message, Morter accepts that a campaign is basically doomed if traditional media fails to pick up on the story.
So perhaps Mayall will upset the charts on Sunday. The week's other big release, however, by former X-Factor contestant Ella Henderson, will be praying that Mayall's fans are as tight with their cash as his character in Bottom.
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