Sunday, March 15, 2009

Number 1s of 2009: March 15

Our third number one in as many weeks, and it's... well, this is a tricky one to explain.

That nine-minute epic (the song begins at about 4:30) is Vanessa Jenkins and Bryn West featuring Tom Jones and Barry Gibb, "Islands in the Stream". And yes, for the most part, it is just a straight karaoke version of "Islands in the Stream."

It's the second charity single for this year's Comic Relief telethon, following the Saturdays' version of "Just Can't Get Enough." The pattern in recent years has been to release one normal record and one novelty single, which usually sells on the strength of the video. In this case, you can only download the EP as a package, but you do get the full video as part of that package.

Vanessa Jenkins and Bryn West are supporting characters from the sitcom Gavin & Stacey. It's picked up a few awards; I've not seen much of it, but I've seen enough to know that a lot of the comedy here depends on knowing the character traits. (There's also a collection of implausible celebrity judges.) I'll leave it to somebody who's actually sat through a whole episode to try and explain, although as you can probably figure out, Ness is the force-of-nature character, and Bryn is a sort of perpetually enthusiastic simpleton.

They're played by Ruth Jones, who co-wrote the series, and Rob Brydon, a comedian who's been around for years getting generally good reviews for shows on the BBC's second-tier channels. His breakthrough show was Marion & Geoff, perhaps the definition of a low-budget schedule filler: an eight-minute show used to round out the hour-long slots on American imports. It consisted of Brydon playing a taxi driver who sat alone in a car delivering monologues about his divorce. You don't get that on Fox.

Tom Jones gets a credit on the single by virtue of actually being on it. Now 68 years old, Jones has been racking up hit singles consistently for 45 years. Surprisingly, this is only his third number one - the first two being "It's Not Unusual" in 1964 and "The Green Green Grass of Home" in 1966. That's 43 years between number 1 hits, which I believe shatters the previous record held by George Harrison - 31 years, between the original release of "My Sweet Lord" in 1971 and its re-release upon his death in 2002. (Assuming you're willing to count this as a Tom Jones single, anyway.)

Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees appears have been credited solely on the strength of his cameo appearance at the start of the video, though to be fair, he did write the song. I suppose he might be on there somewhere doing backing vocals. The original version of "Islands in the Stream" was a number 7 hit for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton back in 1983.

It's a novelty record, and I don't think it has the staying power of some of the earlier Comic Relief singles (such as "Show Me The Way To Amarillo", which somehow managed to become a short-lived national craze, on the strength of a video of Peter Kay lip-synching to it with assorted minor celebrities). Could be back to Flo Rida next week...