The greatest Brits?

The music industry plans to celebrate 25 years of the Brit awards by naming the greatest pop single to emerge from the UK, reports Matthew Beard. Fiona Sturges assesses the contenders
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The Independent Culture

The search for the greatest British chart single of the past 25 years was launched yesterday, pitting seventies icons such as David Bowie and Kate Bush against Eighties and Nineties groups such as ABC and Oasis and 21st century stars including The Streets and Coldplay.

A list of 25 tracks has been drawn up by music industry and media figures in a competition to mark the 25th award ceremony of the Brits, the annual celebration of the domestic music industry organised by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). Although the first awards ceremony was held in 1977, a five-year gap until 1982 means the Brits celebrates its silver anniversary this year.

Those artists who made the cut - which the organisers admit will provide a "controversial" winner - testify to the enduring appeal of the ballad. Those shortlisted include "Wuthering Heights" by Kate Bush; "Careless Whispers" by George Michael; Annie Lennox's "Why"; "Leave Right Now" by Will Young; "I Don't Want To Talk About It" by Rod Stewart and "Angels" by Robbie Williams.

The Bee Gees are represented with "Night Fever". Of the rock anthems since 1977, "Wonderwall" by Oasis and Queen's "We Are the Champions" are in contention.

The shortlist was announced yesterday by Davina McCall on BBC Radio 2 and will be narrowed down to five final contenders for the Brit awards nomination launch on 10 January. The final winner will be announced on 9 February at the 25th Brits. Voters will be able to register their preference via the internet, text or telephone from 21 January to 30 January.

Colin Martin, music editor of Radio 2, who sat on the panel, said: "British chart music is a massive part of our popular culture - and looking back at what has been produced since the Brits first began in 1977 has highlighted what a wealth of outstanding talent we have produced over the decades.

"Distilling over a quarter-century of hits to a list of 25 to be voted on by Radio 2 listeners has been one of the most difficult tasks I have ever shared in."

The BPI chairman, Peter Jamieson, said: "Brits25 is already lining up to be a very special show. This unique collaboration with BBC Radio 2 gives the British public their opportunity to select the very best song of the two-and-a-half decades the Brits has been running. The result is bound to be controversial."

The judges drew up a shortlist according to certain criteria. The songs, by British acts, must have first charted between 1 January 1977 and 31 December 2004. Re-releases and re-issues were not eligible and the recording had to reach the top 75 within the period. A maximum of one title per artist was allowed and the recording had to have been available on general UK-wide release

GOLDEN BROWN The Stranglers (Date: January 1982; Chart position: 2)

With its lilting harpsichord, "Golden Brown" was hardly characteristic of the early pub rock espoused by punk survivors, The Stranglers. And despite the song's rather enthusiastic references to heroin use, it turned out to be the band's biggest hit.

YELLOW Coldplay (Date: July 2000; Chart position: 4)

They picked up Radiohead's loud-soft-loud format and ran with it, and now they're filthy rich. Fans of the aforementioned Oxford band may still balk at singer Chris Martin's vocal histrionics though, as "Yellow" illustrates, there's no denying his skills as a master songwriter. Now with a celebrity wife in tow, his fate as a rock legend is all but sealed.

CARELESS WHISPER George Michael (Date: August 1984; Chart position: 1)

It may not be his best but it's certainly one of the former Wham! frontman's more memorable songs, and one that has provided the soundtrack for end-of-the-night school-disco snoggers for nigh on two decades. For that alone, it must take its place in the annals of pop history.

SACRIFICE Elton John (Date: June 1990; Chart position: 1)

There's really no excusing this tepid drivel. Elton may have assumed the status of a rock's grande dame (or is that panto dame?) these days but - let's be honest here - he hasn't written anything worth listening to since 1975. As for that fake American accent, put a sock in it, will you, Sir?

KISS FROM A ROSE Seal (Date: July 1994; Chart position: 20)

Combining soul and pop with a moody down-tempo dance vibe, "Kiss From A Rose" was one of those songs that wandered into the consciousness uninvited and stayed there for years. It was an instant classic and one which Seal found impossible to repeat.

UNFINISHED SYMPATHY Massive Attack (Date: February 1991; Chart position: 13)

Creators of the genre that became cringeingly known as trip-hop, Massive Attack's influence on the course of British music cannot be denied. While they seem to have veered off course in recent years, "Unfinished Sympathy'' saw the Bristol trio at the height of their powers.

ANGELS Robbie Williams (Date: December 1997; Chart position: 4)

It hurts to say it but this lovelorn ballad by the boy band singer- turned-national treasure Robbie Williams is an inescapably great work. For once Robbie's look-at-me winking and gurning plays second fiddle to some genius songwriting. This song also set the former Take That! man on the road to glory and a very lucrative contract.

WONDERWALL Oasis (Date: November 1995; Chart position: 2)

While Oasis's music was generally eclipsed by the schoolboy antics of the Gallagher brothers, "Wonderwall" at least serves as a reminder of why music lovers gave them the time of day. Your own feelings towards this song, however, will depend largely on your appreciation of Liam's nasal whine.

TRUE Spandau Ballet (Date: April 1983; Chart position: 1)

Spandau Ballet will be remembered as the quintessential Eighties yuppies whose insipid brand of neo-soul became the soundtrack for white sock and loafer-wearing Essex boy racers. "True" was silly then and is even sillier now.

LEAVE RIGHT NOW Will Young (Date: December 2003; Chart position: 1)

The first winner of the Pop Idol contest seemed doomed to be a one-hit wonder until this song - a heart-wrenching paean to thwarted love - shot to the top of the charts.

WHY Annie Lennox (Date: March 1992; Chart position: 5)

After her Eighties glory years with Eurythmics, Annie Lennox never quite lived up to expectations as a solo artist. "Why", from her 1992 album, Diva, may have kept her alive in the minds of her fans but the melody was vapid as boiled cabbage. A classic? Not even close.

LOOK OF LOVE ABC (Date: May 1982; Chart position: 4)

It was the debonair delivery of ABC singer, Martin Fry, combined with knob-twiddler Trevor Horn's pristine production that made this one of the songs of the Eighties. Hardly one for the history books but still a dance-floor filler for the over 35s.

HOLDIN' BACK THE YEARS Simply Red (Date: May 1986; Chart position: 2)

Unless you're rewarding sales, there can be little justification for the inclusion of any Simply Red song in any Best Of list. For their several million fans this is presumably a classic tearjerker, though for the rest of us it's nothing short of torture.

SLEDGE HAMMER Peter Gabriel (Date: April 1986; Chart position: 4)

Diehard fans of Peter Gabriel were rather sniffy about this unabashedly pop number, claiming he was at his best on more arty songs such as "Red Rain" and "Don't Give Up". It remains a serviceable pop song and had a terrific video.

HEROES David Bowie (Date: October 1977; Chart position: 24)

The title track from Bowie's 1977 album, reputed to be about two lovers living on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall, is commonly held up as one of the musician's masterpieces. Not even its terrible fate as a theme tune for a Microsoft commercial could diminish its beauty and staying power.

BABYLON David Gray (Date: July 2000; Chart position: 5)

To his fans he's the next Jeff Buckley but for the rest of us he's just a poor man's Coldplay.

Manchester's David Gray gets full marks for effort - it took him five years of punishing tours just to get a record contract - but sadly his songs (yes, there are others) just don't make the grade.

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS Queen (Date: October 1977; Chart position: 2)

It may not be the most sophisticated song from the Queen back catalogue, but the wilfully bombastic "We Are The Champions", appropriated by football fans and politicians, has become one of rock's most recognisable anthems.

NIGHT FEVER The Bee Gees (Date: April 1978; Chart position: 1)

This relentlessly catchy track from the film Saturday Night Fever not only revived the careers of the brothers Gibb, staying at the top of the charts for two months, but came to encapsulate the romance and excitement of the late Seventies disco era. If this doesn't get your hips swinging, you're clearly made of wood...

I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT Rod Stewart (Date: April 1977; Chart position: 1)

Fans of the original written by Crazy Horse's Danny Whitten weren't exactly enamoured of this cover version, and it's not hard to see why. Alas, it's not a patch on Stewart's other solo songs such as "Handbags and Gladrags", "Maggie May'' and "The Killing of Georgie".

LOVE WILL TEAR US APART Joy Division (Date: June 1980; Chart position: 13)

The Manchester band that spawned a nation of kohl-smudged, crushed velvet-wearing goths still have a lot to answer for. Recorded a few months before the tragic frontman Ian Curtis committed suicide, Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was an instant classic and is still regarded by many experts as the greatest pop song ever made.

FIELDS OF GOLD Sting (Date: June 1993; Chart position: 16)

Just when we thought he'd been forgotten about, up pops the tantric god with another best-selling dirge. Like most of Sting's solo works, "Fields of Gold" is of course sanctimonious tripe but, alas, it's the kind of sanctimonious tripe that flies off the shelves and straight into lists like these.

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT The Jam (Date: February 1981; Chart position: 21)

A Jam classic, this acoustic lament sees Paul Weller brooding over the trials of early-80s working-class life. The lyrics, reportedly written in 10 minutes after a night in the pub, take in quintessentially English themes such as weather, smog "breathing in petrol" and nights indoors "not eating your tea".

LONDON CALLING The Clash (Date: December: 1979; Chart position: 11)

An insistent call to arms, the title track to The Clash's 1979 album was a brilliant fusion of pop, rockabilly and reggae. It's sheer urgency (sample lyric "London calling to the imitation zone/Forget it, brother, you can go it alone"), makes it easy to see why critics and fans regard it as one of the decade's best.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS Kate Bush (Date: February 1978; Chart position: 1)

This otherworldy debut single, inspired by Emily Bronte's windswept love story, set a staggeringly high standard for the teenage prodigy first discovered by Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour. While naysayers dismissed it as a novelty record, record buyers were mesmerised by its unabashed melodrama, and rightly propelled it to the top. Still a favourite.

DRY YOUR EYES The Streets (Date: July 2004; Chart position: 1)w

It seems inherently wrong, given the originality of his music, that Mike Skinner, aka The Streets, has missed out on winning the Mercury Music Prize for past two years. A genius in the making, Skinner sings about real people and real life and his music has been a much-needed shot in the arm for British pop.

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