This is one of the more fascinating stories of how fickle fame can be. Babylon Zoo’s career launched with a big blaze of publicity at the end of 1995. I remember teaser adverts appearing in newspapers that simply said “beam me up cos I can’t breathe“. What could it all mean? It turned out that this was a reference to their forthcoming single “Spaceman” which was used in an advert for Levi’s, which by this point had been a reliable way to get a big hit.
The advert was rather spectacular, being set some time in the future, and also being rather weird. When “Spaceman” was released in January 1996, it stayed at Number One for five weeks, and also went on to sell over a million copies. When people heard “Spaceman” in full though, they were a little surprised (and maybe disappointed), as it mostly consisted of a rock song, in much contrast to the bizarre dance-fuelled high-pitched opening and closing, along with the wordplay “I always wanted you to go into space, man“.
Another factor that helped them was their frontman Jas Mann, who could be described as “charismatic” (although some people felt that this could be translated as “immensely irritating”), and he could be rather good at embarrassing himself in interviews. Either way, he was suddenly one of the biggest names on the pop music scene, appearing on the cover of Smash Hits, and also hosting an edition of Top Of The Pops. In February 1996 the album “The Boy With The X-Ray Eyes” was released, which reached no. 6.
Many people consider Babylon Zoo to be a one-hit wonder, but they actually had two further hits in 1996 with “Animal Army” and “The Boy With The X-Ray Eyes”, and although they both made the Top 40, they made nowhere near the cultural impact that “Spaceman” did. Let’s go on to February 1999, when Jas returned after a break of two years with “All The Money’s Gone”, a probably rather honest assessment of where he was after his moment of fame. Despite a performance on The National Lottery Live, which usually gave singles a boost, it didn’t help much here, reaching only no. 46.
I remember NME joked at the time that Babylon Zoo were now at a level of fame where their next single would probably be given away free with a packet of Space Raiders. But, they had no further hits, their second album “King Kong Groover” didn’t chart, and they would split shortly after. Once again, music fans had simply moved on, but it can’t be denied that for a brief moment, their presence on the scene was very exciting.