Peter McLennan has helpfully and correctly blogged here about the strange factual detachment that the popular media in New Zealand – or at least some of it – has developed over the past few days with regard to expat singer Kimbra’s guest spot on Gotye’s perhaps to be US number one single Somebody That I Used To Know.
Setting aside the gratuitous reworking of a shortish guest spot to the status of a ‘duet’ by TVNZ, several outlets have now decided to anoint Kimbra (who I hope gets there – she deserves it) with a mythical status as, to quote Stuff:
the first New Zealand artist to be linked to a number one on the United States music charts.
the first Kiwi to make it to number one on the US music charts.
Both of which are factually incorrect statements of course.
The first New Zealander to make it to number one in the US music charts was OMC, featuring Pauly Fuemana, with How Bizarre, a record written in New Zealand, recorded in Freemans Bay, Auckland, New Zealand and released worldwide on a New Zealand owned record label (distributed by the Dutch PolyGram company). It was, as anyone reasonably knows, quite a feat and something that Pauly and everyone else involved worked rather hard to achieve. We were told before that that it could not be done – and we did.
And Pauly was, as was I and others in the mix that got it there, rather proud of our achievement. It also reached number one in another 14 countries and was lifted from the US platinum (almost double platinum – that’s 2 million copies folks) album of the same name.
In the US the decision was made by Mercury, a US branch of PolyGram, to issue the single only to radio and use the airplay to drive album sales = more money. This was industry standard at the time and many acts did it. The Hot 100 was no longer regarded a reliable reference to what was truly hot as a huge percentage of records were because there was no physical single, ineligible
But – I argued – we wanted a physical single so we could top the US Hot 100. Mercury came back and said the Pop Chart, based solely on airplay, had the same standing in the industry, and – more – was the thing that decided the other important charts, American Top 40, and Rick Dees, which most Americans heard as the US chart.
We agreed and waited – between June and August, we totalled some 560,000 radio plays on US top40 radio (it passed a million later that year) and some 1o,000 video plays (most played US video of 1997 – 15,000) and finally I had a call from New York on August 16th, 1997. “You’re number one, number one!” screamed the woman from Mercury.
And so it seemed we were – we’d knocked off Meredith Brooks and we were number one, although ineligible for the Hot 100 (which is often seen as the premium chart by outsiders) because there was no physical single. We were also number one on American Top 40 and Rick Dees.
The irony was PolyGram Canada had taken advantage of the lack of a released single and shipped 300,000 across the border, which – if they’d been counted – would’ve allowed the record to top the Hot 100 too.
We had a fax later that day confirming the chart, and a few months later a plaque from Mercury for a number one.
The album was stickered with “Featuring the number one single “How Bizarre”.
The Billboard site records it this way:
Jump forward 15 years and how we forget. Pauly is no longer with us and reporters have decided that history needs a tweak to make a handy headline. After I saw the story linked above, I tweeted the Waikato Times reporter, Belinda Feek, and suggested that she was a cub reporter who was recycling a press release. She denied both – which of course made it worse: it was just very sloppy reporting.
Edit: Having talked with Belinda, I accept that her mistake was the result of misinformation on the net, not sloppy reporting.
The NZ Herald and TVNZ didn’t bother to reply, which is their usual style when called up, and the Entertainment Editor from Stuff emailed me trying furiously (albeit politely) to redefine what a “US Music Chart” is – and not doing that very well.
So, who to trust? Billboard, American Top 40 and Ricks Dees and the US record company, all of whom listed it as number one, or a lazy ill informed reporter or two desperate to create a story?
Dunno – you judge.
But either way, I think it’s beyond shabby to try and strip the credit for his achievement – something his family, friends and much of the nation was enormously proud of – from the late Pauly Fuemana. It’s completely wrong, which is why, I guess, I’ve put finger to keyboard here.