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Rentaghost: Which 90s indie band ripped off a kids TV classic for their one big hit?

We join internet sleuths in the quest to uncover the identity of a mysterious Britpopper with a Rentaghost confession.

Rentaghost

Who ripped off the intro to children's classic Rentaghost? Image: Maurice Savage / Alamy Stock Photo

The mystery began on Sunday morning with the curious appearance of the word Rentaghost in the list of Twitter trends. It’s the name of a British TV classic that ran from 1976 to 1984, about a business that offered actual ghosts for hire. It starred Audrey off of Corrie as a Dutch maid with allergies, veteran actress Molly Weir (indie fact – the inspiration for The Vaselines’ Molly’s Lips as covered famously by Nirvana) as the Scottish spook Hazel McWitch, and Michael Staniforth as the reasonably iconic Timothy Claypole, the jester. Staniforth also wrote and performed the show’s theme song.

Why was it trending? Brilliantly someone had submitted an entry to Fesshole, the anonymous Twitter confession account, to admit ripping off that iconic theme. “I played in a fairly successful indie band in the 90s,” they said, “and we had one big hit; I’ve never told anyone before but its based on the theme to Rentaghost.” Indie Twitter immediately leapt into action in an attempt to solve the riddle – which band ripped of Rentaghost and with which song?

Like a Baggy Sherlock Holmes we donned our bucket hat and skinny-fit Elastica t-shirt to solve this great Britpop mystery.

WHAT WE KNOW: The song is by a “British indie band” in “the 90s”, so we’re looking at the Britpop and Baggy eras, essentially. Secondly, the song was that band’s “one big hit”, so we’re looking for an otherwise mid-level band who had one iconic single (think The Boo Radleys’ Wake Up Boo) or else a legit one-hit-wonder (think Babylon Zoo’s Spaceman). Thirdly… it presumably sounds a bit like the theme from Rentaghost

THE PROBLEM: It turns out almost every 90s indie song sounds at least a bit like the theme from Rentaghost.

Searching through the Twitter thread, these are the main contenders:

The Bluetones – Slight Return

The case for: The two songs are in the same key, and the first chord followed by a beat of silence is pretty much identical in both. There’s a similar jangly feel. What’s more, one eagle-eyed fan spotted that Bluetones singer Mark Morriss once retweeted a tweet about Rentaghost.

The case against: Slight Return is far from the only hit The Bluetones had, though it remains their most famous song by some distance. Still, …If, Marblehead Johnson, Solomon Bites The Worm and Autophilia all did some reasonable chart business.

Can you sing Slight Return over Rentaghost?: The very first chord is bang on, but the rest feels like a stretch. It doesn’t really fit.

Babybird – You’re Gorgeous

The case for: Though Stephen ‘Babybird’ Jones had some cult success across the 90s, You’re Gorgeous is legitimately his only real hit. What’s more, this is the option favoured by Fesshole founder Rob Manuel, who presumably knows the identity of the original submitter (though he’s quick to deny it. He would say that, though, wouldn’t he?) The sparse chords are kind of similar as well.

The case against: To our ears there’s just not that much of a similarity.

Can you sing You’re Gorgeous over Rentaghost?: Actually it works better the other way around – the “Rentaghost!” bits slot quite neatly into the verse: “Remember that tank top you bought me?” “Rentaghost!”. Rentaghost changes key in a way You’re Gorgeous doesn’t bother with though, and is all the better for it. (I have never liked You’re Gorgeous).

Cast – Alright

The case for: A favourite theory on Twitter, as the chord sequence is very similar. The key change in the middle of the verse is also bang on.

The case against: Like The Bluetones, Cast were hardly a one-hit wonder, and arguably Alright isn’t even their biggest song – Fine Time, Sandstorm, Free Me and Walk Away were all fairly notable chart-botherers.

Can you sing Alright over Rentaghost? A bit. The key change does work.

Space – Neighbourhood / Female of the Species

The case for: The scouse band’s first two hits were both widely touted by indie sleuths, and both songs have a similarly spooky and sparse feel to Rentaghost.

The case against: The fact that there’s two options here kind of gives the game away – Space had quite a few hits. Besides, their biggest moment was probably The Ballad of Tom Jones.

Can you sing Neighbourhood or Female of the Species over Rentaghost? Not really. Both clang and jar a bit against the melody.

Space Hog – In The Meantime

The case for: The snaking bassline definitely has some of the character of the Rentaghost intro, and singer Royston Langdon’s affected vocal really does seem to be doing an impression of Timothy Claypole. This was also a legit one hit wonder, so it’s a contender. Finally, what noise do ghosts make? “Ooooooooeeeeeeoooooooooo!”

The case against: We can’t think of a genuinely compelling one.

Can you sing In The Meantime over Rentaghost? Yep, the verses work quite well.

The Supernaturals – Smile

The case for: They’re called “The Supernaturals” for a start. And despite a few minor hits, this is their one big moment on the Britpop stage.

The case against: It doesn’t really sound that much like it, does it?

Can you sing Smile over Rentaghost? Yes, but we’re beginning to realise that you can sing any 90s indie single over Rentaghost.

Ocean Colour Scene – The Day We Caught The Train

The case for: Similar intro. Ish.

The case against: Partly, OCS had a couple of big hits (Riverboat Song, Hundred Mile High City), but mostly because it doesn’t sound anything like Rentaghost.

Can you sing The Day We Caught The Train over Rentaghost? Not without really torturing it.

Jesus Jones – Right Here Right Now

The case for: The band themselves waded in and (mis)quoted a line from this song in reply to the original Tweet. The melody scans pretty well.

The case against: Let’s face it, they’re probably taking the piss. Besides, surely International Bright Young Thing was their biggest hit?

Can you sing Right Here Right Now over Rentaghost? Actually, yes. Maybe it was hiding in plain sight all along…

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