A tribute to Sound of the Underground, my Girls Aloud anthem for every night out

A tribute to Sound of the Underground, my Girls Aloud anthem for every night out
After the death of the irrepressible Girls Aloud star Sarah Harding, Ellie Harrison looks back at the band’s debut single and how it changed the face of pop

When the news of Sarah Harding’s death broke, the reaction on our “galz” WhatsApp group was instant and reeling. It was flooded with messages of sadness and disbelief, and we all agreed we should dedicate our next “Sound of the Underground” dance to Sarah.

Girls Aloud’s debut single – a Christmas No 1 in 2002, recorded just days after the band formed on Popstars: The Rivals – has somehow, quite incongruously, become “our song” over the years. The eight of us loud girls from Brighton have made it our own, like a loved-up couple makes a song theirs. It’s been the soundtrack to our lives and, in three minutes and 41 seconds, encompasses our in-jokes and memories from the past 17 years. Downing vodka on Hove lawns in year 10, the annual friends awards ceremony, mending each other’s broken hearts – it all comes rushing back when we listen to this song, “a chain reaction”, in Girls Aloud’s words, “running through our veins”.

“Sound of the Underground” spent four consecutive weeks at the top of the UK charts when it was released, and it also reached the top spot in Ireland and the top 40 in Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. With its combo of twangy guitars and pulsating electronic beats, it changed the face of pop from something sugary and for children to a genre with a spikier edge. NME described it as “smart, sexy, witty… a bit of a shock”, while The Guardian called the band’s debut album of the same name “a reality pop record that didn’t make you want to do physical harm to everyone involved in its manufacture”.

It made stars of its producers, Xenomania, who went on to make tracks for Kylie Minogue and Pet Shop Boys. Brian Higgins, who co-wrote the song with Miranda Cooper and Niara Scarlett, said after its release: “We never believed the record company were serious about doing ‘Sound of the Underground’. We thought no way they would ever put that song out.”

Of course, they did. And now at every event where there’s a sound system and space for all of us to dance, “Sound of the Underground” is inevitably played. Tables are shoved aside. The volume is cranked up. Fragile objects are stowed away in cupboards.

I’m not sure any of us can remember who came up with our routine to the song, but the move themselves are etched into our minds, from sinking to the floor to the lyrics “and then it drops and catches like fire” to our incessant twirling to “the beat of the drum goes round and around”. (It’s worth noting here that Harding struggled to remember the band’s actual routine when she performed “Sound of the Underground” with a broom as a prop on Celebrity Big Brother.)

One of our friends is actually a half-decent singer, so we all look to her, our hands in the air as if worshipping a goddess, as she belts out “the bass line jumps in the backstreet light”, a couple of octaves above us.

Sarah Harding on ‘Popstars: The Rivals’

I’ve burst into tears of joy many, many times over the years when we’ve danced to “Sound of the Underground” – looking around at the greatest loves of my life, all spinning and screaming their way through it. No matter who the company is, whether new boyfriends are there or unsuspecting strangers, we’re never too embarrassed to whip out the routine.

Sarah’s bandmates have shared their heartbreak over their friend’s death. “I am absolutely devastated,” wrote Nadine Coyle. “I can’t think of words that could possibly express how I feel about this girl and what she means to me.” Nicola Roberts said she “can’t accept that this day has come… my heart is aching… a part of me or us isn’t here anymore and it’s unthinkable and painful and utterly cruel”. The thought of them grieving their best pal was almost too much for me to bear. Losing one of mine would feel like losing a part of myself, just as Roberts said. I’ll be holding my girlfriends all the tighter the next time we’re together, and we’ll be singing “Sound of the Underground” louder than ever, spinning faster than ever.

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