Irish boy band Westlife was one of the most successful pop groups in history, selling more than 55 million records and breaking four world records, including the most consecutive number one singles.
The band formed in Dublin in July 1998, with three members – Kian Egan, Shane Filan and Mark Feehily – having already been in the boy band, Six As One. Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh auditioned for two more members and Brian McFadden and Nicky Byrne were recruited.
Westlife went on to release 32 singles and 10 studio albums during their 14-year career and won a multitude of awards, including Brit Awards for the best pop act in 2001 and 2002, the Celebrity Award for Pop Star of the Year in 2000 and Disney Awards for best group in 2000 and 2001.
They are Guinness World Record holders for having their first six consecutive singles reach number one in the charts, from Swear It Again in April 1999 through to My Love in October 2000. They also hold the Guinness World Record as the top-selling group of the 21st century, with album sales of 10.74 million up to October 2010.
In 2002, they broke the world record for most public appearances by a pop band in 36 hours, when they appeared in Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh, Manchester and London on a promotional tour.
During their highly successful career, the boys achieved 14 number one UK singles. These included Flying Without Wings in 1999, My Love in 2000 and Queen of My Heart in 2001, all of which achieved gold status.
Their number one hits I Have a Dream in 1999, Uptown Girl in 2001 and You Raise Me Up in 2005 went platinum. Initially, You Raise Me Up (perhaps Westlife’s most famous song) was written as an instrumental piece by Rolf Løvland, of the Irish-Norwegian band, Secret Garden.
It was written in the style of traditional Irish music and was called Silent Story, but Løvland later decided he would prefer it to have lyrics, so he asked Irish songwriter and novelist Brendan Graham to write them, after reading and enjoying his novels.
The lyrics are very uplifting and have a religious theme, talking about how God is lifting up the singer, in an emotional sense, helping them during troubled times and enabling them to carry on.
Løvland said there was something about the song that made people “embrace” it because it made them feel “emotionally strong”. He said the reason may be because listeners could use it “for their own purposes” and adapt the lyrics to their own situation.
The song begins with the words, “When I am down and oh, my soul so weary, when troubles come and my heart burdened be,” and leads into the chorus, which says, “You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains, you raise me up to walk on stormy seas.”
Although it has a religious meaning, many listeners have adapted it to their own meaning and think of it as a love song, when one person lifts another up.
In 2002, Secret Garden released the song from their album, Once in a Red Moon. The vocals were sung by Irish singer Brian Kennedy. It sold well in both Ireland and Norway but enjoyed only limited commercial success elsewhere.
It wasn’t until Westlife recorded their own version of the song that it enjoyed massive commercial success. As well as being number one in the UK, it charted in Australia, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway.
Originally appearing on their album, Face to Face, it became Westlife’s most-recorded song, with around 125 cover versions being recorded by other artists!
Ironically, the band had never wished to record You Raise Me Up. Apparently, it was their manager Louis Walsh’s idea, but the boys said no, claiming it was a church song that wouldn’t go down well. However, in 2011, in an interview, they said they were glad Walsh had suggested it, as it had changed their career.
Westlife split up in 2012, after a hugely successful international career. Their Guinness world records are still intact to this day.
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