“There’s never a bad time to remind yourself of how good Girls Aloud were” says Matthew Roberts. But with the untimely passing of Sarah Harding, it seems a fair time to look back and pick out the best 10 singles from the group who re-defined what a “Girl Band” could be in 21st Century Britain. And with 4 number 1’s and 21 top 10’s on the board, there’s a lot to choose from.
10) The Promise ( 2008 – Peak UK Singles Chart Position #1 )
Is this, for me, Girls Aloud’s “Dancing Queen”. As in one of their most popular songs that whilst being good doesn’t quite hit the mark for me? After all, it was largely on the back of this that the Girls got their first Studio Album Number 1 (Out Of Control). And it’s a very good song. I think that the “problem” for me is that it is a little ordinary compared to a lot of the “odd” songs that will follow on this list. But it’s 60s groove lodges in your brain anyway and the chorus is up there with any chorus on this list.
9) Untouchable (2009 – Peak UK Singles Chart Position #11)
This was their first single NOT to crack the top 10 in the UK (I don’t count the unofficial – of sorts – Theme to St Trinians), bringing to an end twenty consecutive hits in that respect. And to be honest the single version cannot hold a candle to the full seven minute version on the album. It’s always as if something is missing when you listen to the single. But it’s still a GREAT track. And the couplet of “Without any meaning, we’re just skin and bone. Like beautiful robots dancing alone” is perhaps the finest lyric in the Girls Aloud canon.
8) Something New ( 2012 – peak UK singles chart position #2 )
Reunited for the groups 10th anniversary (and obligatory greatest hits compilation Ten) after a three year hiatus the girls came back with a bang. In some ways it’s the “The Spy Who Loved Me” of Girls Aloud songs, being at once packed full of familiar nods to the bands’ past classics (Nadine rapping, for instance) and by now the “oddness” of their song structure has become their trademark rather than something to particularly comment on. Either way they update their sound to match the prevalent dance-pop sounds of the time and do it better than most of the more modern pretenders of the time ever could.
7) The Loving Kind ( 2008 – Peak UK Singles Chart Position #10 )
The idea of Girls Aloud singing a song written by the Pet Shop Boys (who had recorded their album “Yes” with Girls Aloud producers Xenomania the same year as this was released) was always going to appeal to me but this surpassed all expectations. By the time of their 5th studio album Out Of Control we were seeing a more “mature” Girls Aloud and if it saddened my heart a little that the more fun loving side of the group was in the background musically when what they come up with is as good as this who can argue. Chris Lowe wasn’t keen on the Pet Shop Boys version but was “absolutely over the moon” with this version.
6) Sound Of The Underground ( 2003 – Peak UK Singles Chart Position #1 )
Where it all started courtesy of Popstars; The Rivals of course. But given how much greatness was to come from the Girls and their producers it’s very easy to forget just what a blast of fresh air this was. The prevailing belief was that the boy band would become the ultimate winners of the show. But whilst the quite abysmally average One True Voice gave us an abysmally average and Bee Gees cover as their winner tune, Xenomania head honcho Brian Higgins gave the Sound of the Underground (one of over 50 songs he had demoed whilst waiting for the perfect girl band vehicle to sing them). Pop songs simply didn’t sound like this in 2003, with drums ricocheting all over the place, a surf guitar riff that lodged in your brain and lyrics that were so off the wall they were almost profound.
5) Call The Shots ( 2007 – Peak UK Singles Chart Position #3 )
For all the, almost, avant garde nature of a lot of their best work, Girls Aloud could quite easily do “simple” as well. There’s none of the sudden musical turns that characterise a lot of their best work. The lyrics, detailing the end and aftermath of a relationship and picking yourself up and dusting yourself down, lack the, well, random nature of many of their other songs too. But this is almost perfect pop balladry which swings from upset, to resignation, to defiance to moving on with your life.
4) Sexy No No No ( 2007 – Peak UK Singles Chart Position #5 )
The first Girls Aloud song to give writing credit to the girls to themselves (which came about as all concerned wanted to be more involved creatively and Brian Higgins met up with each of the girls ahead of their fourth album to chat about their lives since the previous album) this is one of those (and you will see more further down the list) which seems to be a number of different songs melded together to create a perfect whole. Except in this case, this was actually three different songs slapped together. An errie beginning is followed by a blistering second movement. For a moment we’re almost in a calm before Nadine starts rapping, Nicola appears and disappears within a fleeting moment. All with a chorus that updates Grease’s Summer Lovin’ Q&A style lyrics for a new generation.
3) Love Machine ( 2004 – Peak UK Singles Chart Position #2 )
It would be easy to dismiss this is merely a classic “ladies dance around their handbag” pop tune. It would also be wrong to think that that is an insult . And if the band had gotten their way this would never have seen the light of day as a single. Nicola complained about the recording taking place over three days and 18 separate parts. Nadine thought it would end their careers. The girls wanted to release the fairly average and downbeat Deadline & Diets instead. The record label got their way and a classic was born. Inspired (in terms of the guitar riff at least) by The Smiths this is three and a half minutes of pure pop joyousness. It also marked the moment that people sat up and took notice. Sugababes may have recorded a cover of the Arctic Monkey’s “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” a couple of years later but by then Alex Turner was covering Girls Aloud on Radio 1’s Live Lounge.
2) The Show ( 2004 – Peak UK Singles Chart Position #2 )
What Girls Aloud served up on their debut album was good, but hardly screamed out long-term success. Four top three singles was a huge success but with the 3rd being a rather bland ballad (Life’s Got Cold) and the 4th being a cover version for a movie (Jump) it’s fair to say that more of the same could have been the chosen route and signalled the start of a slow collapse into obscurity. Instead we got this. The guitars have gone, upbeat electronica is firmly in place and even lyrically, with it’s distinct dislike for promiscuity/telling men to know their place, it seems far ahead of it’s pop time. And for the first time the video for this song gave the girls a personality and made them seem like five separate people rather than one entity. And to think, this isn’t even the greatest Girls Aloud song that seems to make three classic pop songs into one mega song…
1) Biology ( 2005 – Peak UK Singles Chart Position #4 )
Most pop bands and their producers would be content to give you one great pop tune within a three and a half minute song. With Biology, Xenomania and Girls Aloud gave us at least three. There’s the opening piano riff, lifted from the Animals “Club a Go-Go”, mixed with an insanely catchy guitar riff that leads us one way and yet after thirty seconds we’re pulled off in a completely different direction. This then leads to what we think is the pre-chorus but that turns out to be the pre pre-chorus as we’re hit with another one that builds and builds until finally, halfway through the song, we get to the actual chorus. It’s a work of deconstructed pop genius that simply cannot be bettered.