1996: The Year In Pop… 20 Years On

1996—what a year for pop music!

It was a far simpler time. We still relied on the radio, or on TV music video shows like Rage and Video Hits, to follow the charts and discover new music; the total volume of music consumption was still relatively straightforward to calculate, with reasonable accuracy; the age of the “feat.” artist, although on the horizon, was still some way off, in the distant and mysterious future that lay beyond ‘The Year 2000’; and 1996 was smack-bang in the middle of a sustained period of massive music sales—both singles and albums—that had started in the late-80s and didn’t fizzle out until the early-2000s.

Prior to 1996 the Australian Record Industry Association had only ever accredited three singles with Triple Platinum status (recognising 210,000 units shipped); in 1996 alone, three more singles had Triple Platinum honours conferred upon them by ARIA.

1996 is now so long ago that it’s already been the subject of song lyrics that, all at once, fondly recall it and lament the loss of happier times; The Smashing Pumpkins did much the same thing when they recalled 1979—oddly enough, they did that in 1996.

’96 was also topped and tailed by a couple of significant records:

The year began with Coolio rounding out thirteen weeks at #1 with Gangsta’s Paradise, from the Dangerous Minds motion picture soundtrack. In doing so, Gangsta’s Paradise became the second-longest reigning #1 single in Australian chart history—a record it still shares with The Beatles’ Hey Jude to this day.

By year’s end, the Spice Girls’ debut single Wannabe had chalked up eight of its eleven weeks at #1, which made it the equal third-longest reigning #1 single of all time (a record it shared with Mull Of Kintyre, by Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles group Wings); that record was held until January 2003, when Eminem’s Lose Yourself spent a twelfth week at #1, bumping the Spice Girls and Wings down the Guinness Book list to fourth-longest. But the Spice Girls did manage hold on to another record: Wannabe remains the most successful and highest-selling début single by an all-girl group in Australian chart history.

1996_no-1-single-debutsThree singles debuted at #1 during 1996—that’s as many as had debuted at #1 for the entire preceding six years:

  • in January, Jesus To A Child debuted at #1, as the first single from George Michael’s Older album, which also debuted at #1 some months later. Though Jesus To A Child stayed at #1 for two weeks, it was somewhat atypical of a George Michael single and, indeed, of the rest of the album; in its third week on the chart, it plummeted from #1 to #6—only eight other singles had fallen from #1 to #6 or below since 1970—and after just nine weeks it had dropped out of the Top 50. Follow-up single Fastlove, which debuted at #2 and, eventually, also hit #1, was significantly more successful.
  • in early June, Until It Sleeps, the highly anticipated first single from Metallica’s Load album, debuted at #1. Like the George Michael single, it also had a relatively brief tenure within the Top 50, having exited by its twelfth week in the chart. Three previous Metallica singles had made it to the Top 10 but, relative to their peak positions, Until It Sleeps was, by far, the highest charting. Follow-up single Hero Of The Day went on to début at #2 in September.
  • at the end of June, Fugees debuted at #1 with Killing Me Softly. It wasn’t the first single they’d ever released; it wasn’t even their first single to chart in Australia—that was the previous one, Fu-Gee-La, which didn’t even crack the Top 40. But the combination of a unique and then-very current sound, and the familiarity of Roberta Flack’s 1973 #1 hit, saw Killing Me Softly spend seven weeks at #1, getting one of the three Triple Platinum gongs of the year and becoming the second highest-seller of 1996.

In August 1996 a ridiculous dance fad went viral—yes, it was even possible without the internet and social media—and for three weeks in September, two versions of exactly the same song, by different artists, occupied the #1 and #2 positions on the Australian singles chart. I refer, of course, to the unforgettable Macarena which, for a time, was omnipresent. Los Del Rio‘s version spent an agonizing nine weeks at #1, becoming the biggest-selling single of 1996 and even spawning a Christmas version in the lead-up to the festive season; meanwhile, the poor cousin Los Del Mar version (which was actually the first one recorded and released and the first to hit the charts) only managed three weeks at #2, although it still ranked as the 14th highest-selling single of the year.

For the record, the ten biggest-selling singles of 1996 were:

# Title Artist  Certified
1 Macarena Los Del Rio 3xPlatinum
2 Killing Me Softly Fugees (Refugee Camp) 3xPlatinum
3 Because You Loved Me Celine Dion 2xPlatinum
4 How Bizarre O.M.C. Platinum
5 Wannabe Spice Girls 2xPlatinum
6 One Of Us Joan Osborne Platinum
7 Missing Everything But The Girl Platinum
8 Return Of The Mack Mark Morrison Platinum
9 What’s Love Got To Do With It Warren G. (Feat. Adina Howard) Platinum
10 You’re Makin’ Me High Toni Braxton Platinum

1996 also saw the début, the first significant success, or the end of a whole bunch of artists who, thanks to some unforgettable songs, either went on to further commercial success, or faded from the limelight altogether.

  • in mid-February, Everything But The Girl entered the Top 40 with a single that was, far and away, their first notable success in Australia. They’d previously charted with one other song, ironically titled Don’t Leave Me Behind, which had peaked at #85 in April 1987; very few Australians would’ve remembered it (assuming they’d ever heard it at all) by the time Missing was released nearly nine years later. Listed locally as Missing-The Remix EP, the main radio and club versions were remixed from the original 1994 album track by then in-demand DJ/Producer, Todd Terry. Missing spent six consecutive weeks at #2. Aside from one other Top 20 single, Everything But The Girl never had another significant chart hit here.
  • in March, New Zealanders O.M.C. hit the Australian charts for the first time with the enduring How Bizarre. It went to #1 for five weeks and was ranked the fourth highest-selling single of the year. For the better part of a decade afterwards, the song’s chorus refrain was virtually the first thing anyone under 30 said, whenever someone was foolish enough to utter the words “how bizarre”.
  • also in March, Irish siblings The Corrs made their local début with Runaway. A relatively slow burner, it finally hit its peak of #10 after three full months on the chart. Runaway was the first of sixteen Corrs singles to chart between 1996 and 2005, though they had to wait another four years for their only other Top 10 single, Breathless. Meanwhile the album from which Runaway was taken, Forgiven, Not Forgotten, became the third highest-seller of the year.
  • in mid-March, The Beatles’ Real Love became the iconic band’s second Australian Top 10 single in as many years. Like the previous year’s Free As A Bird—which had been their first local Top 10 single since 1970—Real Love was a reworking of an incomplete John Lennon track.
  • perhaps the most enduring of all Alanis Morissette singles, Ironic, debuted in late-March and became one of the biggest hits of the year. Twenty years on, it’s arguably still her most recognised track—this, despite (or perhaps even because) almost none of the events in the lyric are actually examples of irony. Her soon-to-be epic album, Jagged Little Pill, re-entered the chart and was propelled to the first of its ten weeks at #1 following the success of Ironic. Eventually accredited 14xPlatinum, Jagged Little Pill was the highest-selling album of 1996.
  • at the end of March, Australian crooners Human Nature hit the chart for the first time with their début single Got It Goin’ On. Despite always having a focus on tight four-part vocal harmonies, the group’s early material was very much in the urban/pop vein that was so popular at the time, and Got It Goin’ On made it to #19. Despite follow-up Tellin’ Everybody stalling at #30, Human Nature’s third single, the double-A side Wishes / Last Christmas, became the first of seven Top 10 hits for the group, while début album Telling Everybody subsequently went to #7 and was accredited Triple Platinum, remaining on the albums chart for 74 weeks.
  • the beginning of April saw the first charting single by Backstreet Boys, We’ve Got It Goin’ On. It only peaked at a lowly #74, but each subsequent single scaled the chart to a higher peak position, with their fourth local release, Everybody (Backstreet’s Back), going all the way to #3 and becoming the first of eight Top 10s for the Boys.
  • in April, Swiss-Italian DJ/Producer Robert Miles debuted with the instrumental dance track, Children. It struck a chord with the 1996 crowd, with its thumping bass drum and tinkling piano melody taking it to #5. Miles subsequently charted with two other sound-a-like singles, before disappearing back into obscurity.
  • in May, dance outfit Triple X made their chart début with X-Files Theme. The TV series was hitting its stride locally, in its third year on air, with this single capitalising both on the show’s growing popularity, as well as on the dance/techno sound that had become so popular. It was perfectly timed—the single spent a week at #2, making it more successful in Australia than anywhere else in the world.
  • also in May, Hallo Spaceboy was the final Top 40 single for the late, great David Bowie (not counting the many chart re-entries in the wake of his death earlier this year). For the single release, the track was significantly reworked from the original album version, having been remixed by Pet Shop Boys.
  • in mid-May, Australian popstress Gina G debuted with OOh AAh…Just A Little Bit, the song she’d finished eighth with at Eurovision 1996, representing the UK. With its of-the-moment Eurodance sound, it went to #1 in the UK after Eurovision and hit the Top 6 in at least six other European territories. Released locally with the slightly less-camp title of Just A Little Bit, it went to #5 and even made #12 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, a hugely unusual feat for Europop in the U.S. at the time—and to this day.
  • © 1996, Australian Record Industry Association Ltd.

    © 1996, Australian Record Industry Association Ltd.

    Just A Girl was Californian band No Doubt’s fourth single, but the first to chart anywhere in the world; after debuting in Australia in June 1996 it went on to peak at #3. It was the first of six Top 10 singles for the band between 1996 and 2003, after which No Doubt went on hiatus while lead singer Gwen Stefani established her own successful solo career.
  • Much-loved Kiwi/Australians Crowded House had their final Top 10 single, Everything Is Good For You, in late-June 1996, ahead of their mega-selling Recurring Dream – The Very Best Of… album (the sixth highest-seller of the year) and their now legendary farewell concert on the steps of the Sydney Opera House.
  • in mid-July, Leann Rimes entered the Australian charts for the first time, at the tender age of just thirteen, with her worldwide début single, the country-tinged Blue. Its single week at #10 was the first and last time she’d appear in the Australian Top 10 until her massive six-week #1 hit, Can’t Fight The Moonlight, five years later.
  • at the end of July we were introduced to Brisbane-based Savage Garden for the first time, with their début single I Want You. It was a modestly successful start for a group on the verge of becoming massive, with I Want You spending three weeks at #4 in September. The follow-up single, future #1 To The Moon And Back, hit the chart in November, four months ahead of their eponymous début album that racked up an enormous 19 weeks at #1 and became the highest-selling album of 1997.
  • August saw the solo début of one of the world’s biggest acts of the 2000s: Robbie Williams with Freedom ’96. He’d left Take That a year earlier but, due to a clause in his contract, couldn’t release any material of his own until the group had disbanded, which they did in early-1996. Despite enormous initial success in the UK, Freedom ’96 was a bit of a flash in the pan locally, only remaining within the Top 50 for six weeks. Only five of Williams’ first ten UK singles charted in Australia and he didn’t hit our Top 10 again until Rock DJ in 2000—his tenth Top 10 and third #1 in the UK.
  • in late-August The Rembrandts’ cracked the Top 50 with I’ll Be There For You, the theme song from “Friends”, which had only debuted on Australian TV weeks earlier; the song went on to reach #3 and rated as the 24th highest-selling single of 1996. It also joined the ranks of numerous TV themes to chart during the 90s, including Falling (from “Twin Peaks”), How Do You Talk To An Angel (from the short-lived Aaron Spelling drama “The Heights”), Closer To Free (from “Party Of Five”), I Don’t Wanna Wait (from “Dawson’s Creek”) and Bad Boys (from US fly-on-the-wall series “Cops”). In terms of both sales and chart longevity, though, I’ll Be There For You was the most successful of all of them.
  • The Spice Girls’ debut single Wannabe hit the chart in September and went on to spend 11 weeks at #1 over the Christmas/New Year period. In doing so, it became the most successful debut single by an all-female act in Australian chart history and its eleven weeks at the top remains, to this day, the fourth-longest run at #1 ever. Wannabe was the first of eight Australian Top 10s for the Girls, from their début album Spice which was accredited 6xPlatinum and charted for more than two years.
  • Continuing the country theme started with Leanne Rimes’ Blue, Shania Twain made her local chart début in November 1996 with If You’re Not In It For Love (I’m Outta Here). It went to #5 and was the first of five Australian Top 5 hits for Shania (the other four all being from her mega-selling album Come On Over during 1998-99).

Also in 1996:

  • January saw Be My Lover become the first of three consecutive Top 10 singles for dance act La Bouche; lead vocalist Melanie Thornton was killed in a plane crash in November 2001.
  • also in January, Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men took One Sweet Day, to #2 for two weeks—somewhat short of its US achievement, where it remained at #1 for about 300 years.
  • in February, Give Me One Reason became Tracy Chapman’s first Top 10 single (and, in fact, her only other significant hit) since her 1988 début, Fast Car.
  • also in February, Wonderwall hit #1 for Oasis—it was their first and last Australian Top 10 single.
  • Björk had her only Australian Top 10—indeed, her only single to reach the Australian Top 30!— when It’s Oh So Quiet went to #6 in March.
  • despite ten consecutive Top 10 singles in the UK, at the end of March Father & Son became the first of only two Aussie Top 10s for Irish boyband Boyzone.
  • in September, the first of nine consecutive Top 50 hits for Jewel was Who Will Save Your Soul; two of the nine reached the Top 4, while all but two of them charted for 18 or more weeks.
  • in late-September, Mark Morrison’s Crazy was the sixth and final single of that name to chart during the 90s (there was one Crazy in the 70s, two in the 80s and six more in the 00s).
  • in October a new remix of Dead Or Alive’s 1985 #3 hit You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) went to #28; the song charted for a third time when another remix was released in 2003.
  • in December, Breathe was The Prodigy’s fifth single to chart in Australia, but their only single to make the Oz Top 10—and in spectacular style: it debuted at #4, peaked at #2, spent 24 weeks in the Top 10 and a huge 42 weeks in the Top 100—both Guns ‘N Roses November Rain and ABBA’s Fernando also spent 24 weeks in the Top 10, with no single ever having exceeded that time, while only 27 other singles had ever charted for 42 or more weeks in the history of the Australian singles chart.

There you have it, then. Can it really be 20 years ago already? I know it seems like a clichéd old person thing to say, but I swear it seems like only yesterday sometimes.

So here’s to 1996… what a year it was!