Official Chart Flashback: Westlife – Flying Without Wings

It's 20 years since the Irish quintet's signature ballad hit Number 1.

Five stools, one key change, and a third Number 1 hit of the year. 1999 belonged to Irish boyband Westlife.

The five Westlife lads had already had an amazing year with their first two singles, Swear it Again and If I Let You Go, going straight in at Number 1. The band had benefited from an association with supporting Boyzone on tour the previous year and, apparently being managed by Ronan Keating, under the watchful eye of their actual manager, future X Factor judge Louis Walsh.

But the songs spoke for themselves, and it was Flying Without Wings that established the band's reputation as kings of the emotional, rousing ballad, a formula they would return to again and again over the course of their career.

Starting off with lead singer Shane Filan's characteristically understated vocals, Flying Without Wings slowly adds instrumentation, and the other band members – including a particuarly powerhouse turn from Mark Feehily – and builds and builds until you wonder how big it could possibly get. By the final third of the song, we get the payoff, and what would become another future Westlife trademark – the all-important key change, helped along by a gospel choir. 

Flying Without Wings wasn't the first boyband ballad, nor is it the biggest selling, but it was certainly influential. After Flying Without Wings, what self-respecting boyband would dare stay seated on a stool for a key change? Stand, boys!

Flying Without Wings was written by British songwriters Steve Mac – who's helped create hits for Pink, Little Mix, and Ed Sheeran among others – and Wayne Hector, who's worked with artists including Olly Murs and Nicki Minaj, and would write a total of seven Westlife Number 1s. For Wayne, Flying Without Wings was a life-changing moment, and a song he says he is particularly proud of. "A big moment for me was when Flying Without Wings came out," Wayne told us back in 2015. "I’d had a few Number 1s at that point, but that convinced people I could write good pop songs. After that, I started working with bigger acts and over a more diverse range of genres, including country and rock, which helped me pick up some credibility." Read the full interview with songwriting supremo Wayne Hector.

Flying Without Wings has soundtracked births, proposals, marriages, funerals, and untold TV talent show montages over the last two decades. Back in that first week, it shifted over 92,000 copies, toppling Christina Aguilera's Genie in a Bottle from Number. It spent just a week there, before another boyband came along to claim the top spot, as was often the case back in the nineties – this time, it was Five's Keep On Movin'.

Flying Without Wings is the fourth biggest song of Westlife's career overall, with 316,000 physical sales, 171,000 downloads, and 16 million streams to its name. The band had fourteen Number 1 singles in their heyday and recently reformed (without Brian McFadden, who left in 2004) for a new album and tour to celebrate their twenty years together. The band have had two Top 40 hits this year, most recently Better Man, which reached Number 26. See all Westlife's chart hits in their archive

Also celebrating the 20th anniversary of first charting this week include Backstreet Boys' epic Larger Than Life, Bug-A-Boo from Destiny's Child, Tina Turner's When The Heartache is Over, and Foo Fighters' Learn To Fly.

View the UK's Official Singles Chart Top 100 from this week in 1999

Listen to the UK's Official Singles Chart Top 40 from this week in 1999:

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