Inspired by Tom Ewing’s “Popular” (which traces the history of UK #1 singles) and Tom Breihan’s “The Number Ones” (which does the same for US #1s), “We’re #2!” looks at the history of those songs which almost but not-quite managed to reach the summit of the UK Singles Chart. Beginning a quarter century back from this column’s inception (March 2019) up until whenever the Present Day comes about.
001] Bryan Adams, Sting & Rod Stewart – All for Love (From The Three Musketeers Soundtrack)
Reached #2: 29th January 1994
Weeks at #2: 1
A great unfortunate albatross dangles around the neck of UK chart history. It was before my time, but my parents remember it vividly and with great disdain, including my mother who is otherwise a fan of the artist when enough gin is flushed down her, and even in today’s nonsensical streaming-weighted charts with #1 singles that remain static for months at a time its feat stands alone. I am, of course, referring to “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.” This song was absolutely inescapable across the entire back-half of 1991 in a way that makes Drake saturation today look like a minor blip on the radar. Bryan Adams’ big credits song for the crummy yet phenomenally successful Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was the #1 song in the United Kingdom for 16 consecutive weeks, beginning its reign of terror on 13 July and finally being slain on 2 November (by U2’s “The Fly”). Across that rule: it held off “Now That We’ve Found Love” by Heavy D & The Boyz, “Let’s Talk About Sex” by Salt-N-Pepa, “Get Ready for This” by 2Unlimited, and teamed up with Right Said Fred in the #2 slot to hold the pinnacles of the chart hostage for six straight weeks. (Were we to have covered “I’m Too Sexy,” it would have been a 2.) To this day, only two songs have come close to equalling that feat, Wet Wet Wet’s “Love is All Around” in the Summer of 94 (which we’ll cover very soon) and Drake’s “One Dance” in the Summer of 2016, both reaching 15 weeks before being dethroned.
But “(Everything I Do)”’s crimes weren’t just limited to the Autumn of 91 and a record that seemingly may never be toppled. Whilst the song may not have been the first blockbuster end credits power ballad designed to cross over onto Pop Radio, its monster world-conquering success – also topping the Billboard Hot 100 for seven straight weeks and being the #1 song in America for the entire year – definitely codified the template for them going forward. If you’ve ever watched a 90s Disney movie, you already know exactly what I’m talking about. Piano-led, chintzy and dated Casio tone providing a glossy metallic backing, vague lyrics about uplift and love sometimes only tangentially related to the film you just saw, a plodding tempo, lighters in the air atmosphere, a mugging lead singer belting out the lyrics with macho faux-sincerity – very much in the style of Michael Bolton, one of America’s biggest musical acts in the 90s, although surprisingly he only did one such song for the immediately forgotten 1994 rom-com Only You – and one of three possible finale tricks: a choir, a tasteful guitar solo, or a key change.
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They were in abundance throughout the 90s – the decade of the breakaway pop hit from a movie, as we shall discover throughout this series – and the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of everyone’s once-favourite Canadian punching bag Bryan Adams. “(Everything I Do)” and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, no matter how rightly reviled they are today, both conquered 1991 and made everybody involved a lot of money. Naturally, that meant rival entities wanted to reverse-engineer their own Prince of Thieves which is how, in the early 90s, we ended up with three different Three Musketeers projects in development at three different studios simultaneously, since an ultra-successful Robin Hood movie (a rare occurrence in Hollywood even then) clearly meant the appetite was there for the other famous public-domain action-adventure folk heroes. Disney were the only ones able to cobble something together, but their justly-forgotten 1993 take starring Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen and Tim Curry couldn’t have ridden the coattails of its obvious influence any harder if it tried. They even hired Adams, Mutt Lange and Michael Kamen, the writers of “(Everything I Do),” to pen yet another world-conquering omnipresent power ballad smash.
But don’t go thinking that “All for Love” is solely a carbon-copy of “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You!” For one, it is mercifully two whole minutes shorter, actually ending at the point where it motions to end instead of dragging on for a miserable ‘guitar solo’ coda. For two, whilst it’s been a long time since I saw either movie the songs belong to, “All for Love” does at least try to tie into the film with the central chorus lyric “let’s make it all for one and all for love,” even if that makes absolutely no sense as a sentiment. After all, whilst comedians and pedants can snark about the absurdity of Adams’ instance that literally every single thing he does is for the benefit this woman, it does scan for genuine sentiment if you don’t think about it too hard; whilst “let’s make it all for one and all for love” can’t stand up to scrutiny even in half-glimpsed passing.
For three, and most importantly, “All for Love” is a posse cut as Adams is joined by his forebearers in the interminable Adult Contemporary scene, Sting and Rod Stewart. The video – which in the official version uploaded to YouTube, and also in contrast to “(Everything I Do),” doesn’t feature any clips from the movie or even the slightest hint that it’s supposed to be from a movie – begins with the three banditos palling around prior to recording, joshing over receding hairlines, questionable fashion sense, and Rod being late to recording in a totally smooth and natural manner that definitely was not staged or reflective of the mercenary inclusion of Stewart and Sting on the song itself. Neither man is credited as a writer, Sting’s bass is barely audible, Adams gets most of the main melodies leaving the other two to awkwardly stumble over alternating phrases like the least important Migo, and their collective harmonising on the first “all” of each chorus is anything but harmonious, instead being actively painful to the ears. Whilst I can give props for trying to stick to the Three Musketeers theme, their presence adds little to the song, instead reflecting more as a calculating move on the part of executives to maximise profit. “What if, instead of ONE warbling former Soft Rock star dulling any trace of edge he may theoretically once have had, we had THREE warbling former Soft Rock stars dulling any trace of edge they may theoretically once have had?”
And for four, “All for Love” isn’t anywhere near as memorable as “(Everything I Do),” a fact which I’m honestly still not sure is meant to be a point for or against the former’s favour. Say what you will about that aberration, at least I can hum the tune to “(Everything I Do)” in the aftermath of its playing. It’s cloying, it’s sophomoric, it’s insipid, but it’s also catchy. It commands the attention, it refuses to be moved, it holds the metaphorical boombox high outside your metaphorical bedroom window and proudly declares “everything I do, you know I do it for you” in a manner that sticks. By contrast, I have played “All for Love” about 15 times in a row for this feature and every single time I instead get the #1 that blocked it stuck in my head afterwards. Aside from the painful “AAAAAAAAAALLLLLL” that Sting belts every single time the chorus comes around, precious little of the song demands attention or provides any rewarding observations or pleasurable feelings for repeated listening. It’s as harmlessly disposable on the first listen as it is on the fourteenth listen which makes it hard to get worked up about but also simultaneously infinitely more worthless?
Neither “All for Love” or “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” are good songs, which is par for the course when it comes to Bryan Adams – I’d argue you can count the number of worthwhile songs Bryan Adams has recorded on two hands at best. It mainly comes down to whether you personally feel ‘completely forgettable and uninteresting’ is worse than ‘actively dreadful in ways that stick.’ For me, I lean more towards the latter than the former when it comes to music, hence why “All for Love” escapes with that second star. After I file this article, I am very likely never going to think of this song ever again, just like 99% of the British populace. Even if “(Everything I Do)” weren’t towering inescapably over it, I highly doubt this song would have left any significant mark on history, much like the 1993 Three Musketeers itself.
Then again, maybe “All for Love” got the last laugh on me after all since it does have one particular accolade to its name: at time of writing, this is Sting’s highest charting UK single as a solo artist.
The #1: “All for Love” was blocked from the summit by D:REAM’s inspirational Dance-Pop anthem, and eventual Labour Party campaign theme, “Things Can Only Get Better” which was in the second of its four-week reign. It would have been a 3.
A new instalment of We’re #2! will be posted every week.