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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 March 2006, 15:15 GMT
How UK stars conquered US chart
James Blunt
Blunt's debut album Back To Bedlam is also high in the US charts
James Blunt has become the first UK artist to top the US singles chart since 1997, with the song You're Beautiful.

He follows British acts dating back several years, including The Beatles, Phil Collins, Pet Shop Boys, Culture Club and EMF.

But relatively few UK stars have been able to beat the current popularity of US pop, hip hop and R&B stars such as Britney Spears, Destiny's Child and Kanye West.

What enabled the last six UK acts to top the US charts, when so many of their contemporaries failed?


Former soldier James Blunt has topped the US chart with a sparse ballad that spent five weeks at number one in the UK chart last summer.

"It's a very commercial record that is average enough to have universal appeal," says Alex Needham, deputy editor of music journal NME.

"The US seems to think that we Brits write sloppy, sensitive ballads better than anyone else."

Americans like Brits when they are the musical equivalent of Hugh Grant
Alex Needham
Deputy editor, NME
Q magazine editor Paul Rees adds: "You're Beautiful is non gender-specific and easy to remember. It's a Valentine's Day favourite.

"Its simple impact means that musically it is not that far removed from Coldplay, who have also done well in the US."

Blunt's well-spoken manner may have drawn critics in the class-conscious UK but endeared him to a US audience.

"Americans like Brits when they are the musical equivalent of Hugh Grant," says Mr Needham. "Sensitive, slightly bumbling and a bit posh."


Sir Elton John topped the US chart in October 1997 with a song rewritten for his performance at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Elton John

"Americans have always been fascinated by the British royal family," says the NME's Alex Needham.

"James Blunt may have had vague links with royalty, after his time in the Army, but this song was in the very middle of all that."

Sir Elton blended royal tragedy with Hollywood iconography in a ballad originally written about US star Marilyn Monroe.

Candle in the Wind 1997 was Sir Elton's seventh US number one and went on to become the world's biggest-selling single.


The British girl group released their raucous debut single in the US having already scored three number ones in the UK.

The Spice Girls
In February 1997 US acts reigned supreme in the field of hip hop and R&B but relatively few were recording pop music. As a result The Spice Girls sounded quite unlike anything else in the US at the time.

"With the Spice Girls it was the first time we had something with really specific character to it that was not provincial in any shape or form," says Q magazine's Paul Rees.

"They also introduced America to the concept of 'zigga-zigg-a', for which they no doubt remain grateful."

Mr Needham adds: "The Spice Girls were such a massive phenomenon, it was hard for anyone anywhere to avoid them.

"But while their UK hits kept coming, they found it hard to replicate the success of Wannabe with subsequent US singles - a problem James Blunt may also face."


Sealhenry Samuel became famous in the UK after singing with Adamski on the 1990 hit Killer, then launching a solo career with the song Crazy.

He didn't conquer the US chart until August 1995, however, when his song Kiss From a Rose appeared on the soundtrack to superhero movie Batman Forever.

"They have always had a thing in America for singer songwriters with a sensitive demeanour," says Q magazine's Paul Rees.

"There seems to be less stigma attached to ballads in the US than the UK," agrees the NME's Alex Needham.

"It has got to the point where you have a cool hip hop producer such as Timbaland saying he wants to work with Coldplay."

Kiss From a Rose spent 12 weeks at the top of the US chart and, while his UK hits dried up, Seal's albums continued to sell well in America.


UK music veterans Rod Stewart and Sting teamed up with Canadian Bryan Adams to top the US chart with the ballad All For Love in January 1994.

An all-British number one came courtesy of Birmingham stars UB40 six months earlier, however.

It was the second time the multiracial band had conquered the US chart, having previously topped the Billboard's Hot 100 chart in October 1988 with the laid-back Red Red Wine.

They repeated the feat in 1993, with a cover of a ballad turned into a hit in 1970 by Andy Williams and in 1976 by The Stylistics.

Like Seal's Kiss From a Rose, Can't Help Falling in Love was taken from a soundtrack - this time to the Sharon Stone movie Sliver.

The fact that the movie was slated by critics didn't prevent UB40's single spending a total of seven weeks at the top in the US.


"Novelty pop songs have often done well in the States," says Q magazine's Paul Rees. "The quirkier the better."

Right Said Fred
I'm Too Sexy easily fitted into that category, as bodybuilding brothers Richard and Fred Fairbrass joined guitarist Rob Manzoli on this simple and catchy pop hit.

In February 1992 Right Said Fred became the first British act to top the US chart with a debut single since The Beatles (who had taken I Want To Hold Your Hand to the top in 1964).

I'm Too Sexy had only made it to number two in the UK, but a month after their American success the band rectified that with UK chart-topper Deeply Dippy.

They would score no more US hits, however. "It was the latest in a long tradition of one-hit wonders," says Mr Rees.

He concludes that, for those acts seeking chart success in the US, "there is a definite preference for the sensitive singer songwriter".

"But, as Right Said Fred prove, there is always room for an exception."

UK's Blunt tops US singles chart
01 Mar 06 |  Entertainment
Blunt words of sensitive soldier
16 Feb 06 |  Entertainment
Blunt album breaks into US top 10
26 Jan 06 |  Entertainment
Blunt boosts record labels' 2005
06 Jan 06 |  Entertainment
The rise of the singer-songwriter
28 Dec 05 |  Entertainment
Blunt matches Dion chart double
14 Aug 05 |  Entertainment


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