5. Westlife – Uptown Girl
Back to the UK for another cover version that left fans of the original clutching their ears in despair. “Uptown Girl” was an unchallenging, easy to listen to but joyous hit for Billy Joel. The Westlife version was boy-band shiny and took the grit out of the original with their sanitized harmonies. The music video added on some kind of skit at the beginning – featuring Notting Hill actor Tim McInnerny among others – which made the English look like caviar-swilling idiots, while the plucky Irish lads were the cool kids (although they were working in an American diner, so maybe they were meant to be American?). Claudia Schiffer also appeared, as the titular girl who ends up walking off with the boys (of course). Crimes against music didn’t seem to bother Westlife’s massive fanbase, who bought shedloads of copies sending it to number one straight away. Luckily, Comic Relief benefited from it all!
4. Wet Wet Wet – With a Little Help From My Friends
Now, this 1988 single for Childline starts as a pleasant enough cover of the Beatles’ classic – a little bland, but nothing much to complain about. Then, at around a minute in, the band get a little overconfident, and start adding in some extra bits. It starts at the end of the middle 8, where the last line magically turns into “I need somebody to love-ove-to-love-ove-to-love”. If I’d owned the vinyl, I think I would have assumed it was skipping at that point. But it gets worse, as they descend into the kind of vocal gymnastics normally performed by the likes of Mariah Carey. The original melody is not so much lost at sea as packaged up and thrown overboard with a grin. Again, not one for purists…
3. Stop The Violence – Self-Destruction
This 1989 single is for another noble cause – stopping the violence that frequently erupted between rap fans – but the music was the kind of corny pop-rap made popular by Will Smith, and it featured such cringe-worthy rhyming couplets as “Not negative cause the way we live is positive/
We don’t kill our relatives” It was a worthy effort to try and stop black-on-black crime, but a song wasn’t going to help sort out a complicated and long-running history of rap violence and it rumbled on into the 90s – only it would soon become the hip-hop stars that were dying rather than just the fans….
2. Gareth Gates and the Kumars – Spirit in the Sky
On a lighter note, here’s more Comic Relief silliness, featuring a comedy act and a pop star in cringe-inducing crossover. In 2003, it was “Pop Idol” runner-up Gareth Gates who took his turn to release a Comic Relief single, along with the cast members of Asian comedy show “The Kumars at No 42”. The result was a cover of “Spirit in the Sky”, complete with Bollywood dancers and Indian-tinged music. It’s hard to say what exactly makes this quite so bad – whether it’s the religious clash between Asian images and a song that references Jesus, or just once again that an interesting song has had all the edge taken out of it by a smooth popstar. Whatever it was, the bad acting and Gareth’s “comedy hair” in the video certainly didn’t help…
1. Hale and Pace – The Stonk
But the ultimate bad charity song award has to go to the 1991 Comic Relief song, as performed by two mediocre comedians, way past their best. The comedians were Hale & Pace, and the song was “The Stonk”. It wasn’t just a song, it was a dance. You did the Stonk to the rhythm of the…honky tonk…before sticking a red nose on your “conk” (a little-used British word for nose)..and so on. It was a sensation with the schoolchildren of Britain and as such is a natural contender for one of the most irritating songs of all time. It has to be heard to be believed but it reached number one and raised £100,000 for Comic Relief and endures in the memory of anyone who ever had to hear that “ooh stonky-stonky” outro, before being asked “why be a plonker when you can be a stonker?” A classic example of a terrible charity song.