Number Ones: ‘Kiss Me’ and when TV soundtracks were king

kissme

KISS ME – SIXPENCE NONE THE RICHER
#1 JUNE 20 – JULY 10, 1999

Texan band Sixpence None The Richer spent years as an obscure Christian act, before a sex-obsessed, secular show launched their wispy ‘Kiss Me’ to the top of the charts, making them financially secure and artistically successful. God truly does move in mysterious ways.

This dreamy tale of blossoming love and bearded barley took a long time to bloom, first appearing on their eponymous November 1997 album, before being released as a single the following April. The song didn’t see any significant success until it was featured on a November 1998 episode of teen drama Dawson’s Creek. It was a perfect storm.

The sex-obsessed, verbose teen drama was hugely controversial, critically praised, and hugely popular*, inspiring think-pieces back in the days when such things were both actually thought about and inspired further thought. Because The OC hadn’t happened yet, the show quickly caught fire, being watched by a cool six million viewers each week. A full year after the song first surfaced, the the wispy, wide-eyed ‘Kiss Me’** was featured prominently in a pivotal episode –  appearing again the following April, just prior to the release of the show’s soundtrack. Between these two episodes, the song was also featured in the teen hit She’s All That – which basically scooped the remaining teenage female fans who weren’t already glued to Dawson’s Creek – and Pacey’s intense hockey stare – as well as a number of teenage boys who were totally in it for the sex and totally hated all that soppy love bullshit, man.

The following month (Feb), the song entered the American charts, and by May it had done the same here, entering at #14 in late May and hitting #1 on June 20, 1999. The song stayed on top for three weeks before being bumped by Jennifer Lopez’ ‘If You Had My Love’ – but it stuck around the Top 50 until October. Simultaneously, the Dawson’s Creek soundtrack was enjoying an epic chart run, debuting at #1 on June 6, and bouncing around inside the top three like an unmedicated Abby until early October.

In the late ’90s, television soundtracks and the singles they spawned were big business. The Ally McBeal soundtrack made a hit of ‘Searchin’ My Soul’, forcing DJs to have to say the word ‘Vonda’ several times a day, while the opening theme songs from Party Of Five and Friends both hit the Australian charts.*** In May ’96 there were two versions of the (wordless) X-Files theme in the Australian Top 30, because only one version would have been madness. As (foot)noted in an earlier column, 90210 was the first program to really use their teen audience as a platform for launching and propelling pop stars and singles**** while around the same time, the moody Twin Peaks‘ theme – newly-adorned with a ghostly vocal by Julee Cruise – hit #1 in Australia, proving it wasn’t just teens buying up soundtrack singles.*****

The trend continues to this day: the early 2000s saw The OC make indie darlings of bands thereafter described often and only as indie darlings, while in 2011, the season finale of Rachel Bilson-vehicle Hart of Dixie featured The Lumineers ‘Ho Hey’, causing it to lumber up the charts and onto the most annoying advertisements. As with a lot of things in modern culture, you can either blame or thank Paul McCartney for this.

As for the terribly-named Sixpence None The Richer? Well, they followed this success by seemingly becoming a covers act, releasing a great version of The La’s forever-song ‘There She Goes’ and a take on ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’. Last time they checked in was 2012, when they released their sixth album, titled Lost in Translation, lead by the quite-good single ‘Radio’. Pacey and Joey remain happily married, while the ghost of Jen haunts the video store, where Dawson still works three days a week until his film career picks up. It’s going to happen soon, he tells himself, he can feel it in his bones. [long shot of creek]


 

*The first episode of Dawson’s Creek holds up in a John Hughes way: earnest, funny, self-aware, and sentimental without being (too) sappy. It also begins with a cutely-naive treatise on Steven Spielberg and ends with a masturbation joke, so props to Kevin Williamson for all that.

**Great bass line too.

*** By Bodeans and The Rembrandts, both great power pop bands worth checking out. The Rembrandts had an earlier minor hit with fatalist anthem ‘Just The Way It Is, Baby‘.

**** Best example is this classic rhetorical jam by 90210 cast member Jamie Walters. ‘How Do You Talk To An Angel?’ was a massive success, hitting #1 in the US, and #3 in Australia. The accompanying Spelling spin-off show The Heights crashed hard however, with the teenage audience not able to stomach Walters as a sweetheart dreamboat after his previous, season-long reign of domestic terror over the virginal Donna Martin on 90210, including the memorable and still-shocking scene where he pushed her down a flight of stairs.

***** One of the very few songs that could equally and perfectly soundtrack falling in love, suicide, or meditation. Don’t try suicide.

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