Compare and contrast, if you will, this next #1 with our last. ‘Tainted Love’ has the same instruments, is in the same basic genre as ‘Japanese Boy’, but how different it sounds…
Tainted Love, by Soft Cell (their 1st and only #1)
2 weeks, 30th August – 13th September 1981
It’s a collection of synthesised beats and sound effects, intricate but minimalist, and it sounds thrillingly futuristic. One of the sounds – the poink poinks, you know the high-pitched ones that contrast with the lower dun duns, the ones the song fades ends on – always make me think of a life-support machine. In actual fact, they sound nothing like a life-support machine (though Intensive Care wards would be a much more fun place if they did). It’s strange how music can put images into your head.
Sometimes I feel, I’ve got to, Run away… It’s a tale of a toxic relationship, about a lover who needs the tears and pain of their partner, and the singer’s escape from their tainted love… Don’t touch me please, I can’t stand the way you tease… It’s a cover, of course, of a 1964 release by Gloria Jones that failed to chart. A cover of a cover, even, as Jones had re-recorded it in 1976, with the help of her boyfriend Marc Bolan, though it still failed to chart.
And it’s a great cover version. Soft Cell take the original, strip down all the sixties froo-froo and do it up in an early-eighties style. It’s like seeing an old building renovated in a much more modern fashion, but with the walls all in same place, the support beams still running across the ceiling. They take the song in a completely new direction (a direction semi-influenced by Jones’s re-recording), though to most listeners at the time it would have been brand new. It’s sexy, it’s abrasive, it’s very, very now.
By the end, the singer is having second thoughts about giving up on this relationship. Touch me baby, Tainted love… he urges. It might be wrong, he thinks, but it feels so right. Meanwhile the music video is very much in the ‘anything goes’ spirit of the early-MTV age: there are cricketers, Greek Gods, Regency-dressed women, suspicious looking children…
Actually, what I thought was the video – the one I’ve seen several times before, in which a man writhes on a bed and Marc Almond sings among the stars – is actually the video for the 1991 re-recording, which seems to have now usurped the original. One thing I do notice, as great as this strange, sexy record is, Almond’s voice lets it down slightly. It strains at times, and is slightly flat at others. He sounds much better a decade later, on the re-recording.
Soft Cell were another early-eighties act that burned brightly but briefly. They had a handful of other Top 10s before Almond and his sidekick Dave Ball went their separate ways. They won’t re-appear on this countdown (though Almond will, eventually) And, carrying on the fine tradition of covering and re-recording the life out of ‘Tainted Love’, Marilyn Manson scored his (their?) biggest UK chart hit when his/their Industrial-metal version reached #5 in 2002. I can’t think of many songs that I love in three different versions; but ‘Tainted Love’ is one.
Before I go, and seeing as this is my last post for 2021, I’d just like to wish all my readers, followers, likers and commenters a very Happy New Year! See you all in 2022, as we push on through the eighties!
This week, we’re off to discover the mysteries of the Orient… The opening chords sound like the famous intro to ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ remixed, a cheap sort of way to show we’re not in Kansas anymore. All that’s missing is a huge gong being banged…
Japanese Boy, by Aneka (her 1st and only #1)
1 week, 23rd – 30th August 1981
Then in comes a driving synth riff with a familiar rhythm and tempo… Disco’s back (again!) baby, for a week at least. It’s a toe-tapper, for sure; the sort of record you can’t help dancing to, even if you don’t really want to. And you may well not want to dance to this because, let’s be honest, it’s a bit naff…
He said that loved me, Never would go, Uh-oh, Uh-oh… Aneka’s been left all alone. Her happy home’s been broken up. Mister can’t you tell me where my love has gone, He’s a Japanese boy… Meanwhile a very tacky tick-tock effect keeps time, and there are the same ‘pew-pews’ from Kelly Marie’s ‘Feels Like I’m in Love’. Maybe the two songs were recorded in the same studio? I feel strangely proud that two of the early-eighties’ trashiest (and catchiest) #1s were Scottish.
For yes, no matter the, um, chopsticks in her hair. No matter how convincing she looks in a kimono. Aneka is not, brace yourselves, actually Japanese. Her real name is Mary Sandeman, and she’s from Edinburgh. You can look at it two ways: it’s a white woman singing in a high-pitch, pretending to be a geisha. While you could argue that she usually sang in a high-pitch (she did), the video below in which she bows and dances like an obedient courtesan does look a bit iffy these days…
Or you could look at the positives. It’s a white woman who’s been dating, maybe even marrying – definitely sexualising – an Asian man, in 1981. Something that Hollywood still gets stick for not doing enough of thirty years later. Is ‘Japanese Boy’ both incredibly progressive and incredibly backwards…? Or is it just a silly disco hit that doesn’t deserve either weighty tag?
I have to admit I’m enjoying this. It’s a musical Big Mac – lacking in any sort of proper sustenance, every verse, chorus and chord change signalled a mile off, but completely hitting the spot. And it seems that Europe agreed wholeheartedly that summer – it hit #1 from Ireland to Switzerland. One place that didn’t agree was Japan. All the ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ bits I mentioned in the intro…? Japanese record labels thought they sounded too Chinese (which they obviously are), proving yet again that Westerners struggle to differentiate anything east of India.
This was Aneka’s one and only hit (the follow-up made #50) and she’s pretty much disowned it these days, refusing offers to do oldies shows. The most bizarre thing about this whole story is that Mary Sandeman is actually a well-respected Scottish folk singer. The follow-up album to this Japanese excursion was titled ‘Reflections on Scotland’. Even the ‘B’-side to this very smash hit was a cover of Robbie Burns’ ‘Ae Fond Kiss’. ‘Japanese Boy’ was her one attempt at something different… and it ended up being a chart-topping single, written about in WordPress blogs decades later. That’s life.
‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’, by John & Yoko with The Plastic Ono Band & The Harlem Community Choir
reached #4 in December 1972 / #2 in January 1981
Not many festive hits start in such an accusatory tone. Not many festive hits sound like this classic, though. Yes, there are jingling bells and a choir. But there’s no talk of Santa, or snow, or stockings stuffed with presents. This record has it sights set higher: peace on earth.
In my post on ‘Imagine’, which hit #1 shortly after Lennon’s murder, I said that nowadays it could feel a little too idealistic, and a little preachy. Why, then, can I tolerate this song year after year? Is it just because I’m more receptive to songs about war being over, if I want it, when I’m stuffed full of mulled wine and mince pies? Maybe…
I think actually that it’s Phil Spector’s production: taking Lennon’s song and giving them his full Christmas treatment. Strings, chiming bells, beefy drums… It may not have worked on ‘Let It Be’, but it really does here. Despite not actually being much about Christmas, this song sounds like Christmas should.
I’m not posting this song just because I really like it, though. I do, but I also think there’s a chance that it genuinely should have been #1. In its first chart-run, in 1972, it made #4 fair and square, behind the likes of T. Rex and Little Jimmy Osmond. But in 1980, re-released in the wake of Lennon’s death, it also made #4 for Christmas, while the delights of St. Winifred’s School Choir wafted down from top-spot.
Back in those pre-computer days, when everyone at the chart-keeping company was on Christmas holiday, the post-Xmas chart was usually a copy-paste of the previous week’s. St. Winifred’s remained top, John and Yoko at #4. The week after, though, it rose to #2, behind the also re-released ‘Imagine’. I wonder… If the sales of the ‘Happy Xmas’ – which was presumably selling very well in the days leading up to Christmas – were counted, and the chart hadn’t simply been repeated… Could it have been a number one? I guess we’ll never know.
Though it never made #1, ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ makes the chart every year now thanks to festive streaming. It’s currently perched at #34 in the charts, and will presumably rise even higher next week. With that, I’d like to wish all my readers a very merry Christmas, and a happy new year… Let’s hope it’s a good one… wherever this holiday season finds you. (I’d also like to wish for war to be over, but I think I may be overreaching…)
Proving that the British public can only remain serious for so long (three weeks, to be precise) here is Shakin’ Stevens knocking The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ off the top with another slice of old-style rockin’ and rollin’…
Green Door, by Shakin’ Stevens (his 2nd of four #1s)
4 weeks, 26th July – 23rd August 1981
‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ was obviously the motto pinned to the wall of Shaky’s recording studio. He takes the fun rockabilly of ‘This Ole House’, and ups both the fun and the rockabilly. A boogie-woogie piano and some clicking fingers lead us in to a tale of mystery and intrigue… Just what is behind the green door?
There’s an old piano and they’re playin’ hot, Behind the green door… Is it a bar? Don’t know what they’re doin’ but they laugh a lot, Behind the green door… Is it more than a bar…? A speakeasy? A strip-club? A brothel?? And why does it sound like the door leads directly off from Shaky’s bedroom, as he lies awake all night…?
It’s not a record that holds up much under scrutiny. But, you suspect, that was never the point. This wasn’t written with an eye on it being dissected in literature classes. The grannies and the kids ran out and bought Stevens’s first #1 in their droves, and this is aimed at the same crowd. And I personally can’t say no to some good ol’ fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, especially in an era where traditional ‘guitar’ music was in short supply at the top of the charts. There’s a great, twangy solo too, which ends in a note for note replica of the solo from ‘That’ll Be the Day’.
Shaky tries his best to get in to this here club, but has the door slammed in his face each time. I do like the hospitality’s thin there… line. It’s never specified why he isn’t allowed in – maybe the singer’s just got a baby face? I can sympathise, having spent most of 2002-03 trying, and largely failing, to get into nightclubs with a fake I.D. Wikipedia lists the song’s possible inspirations as including a Chicago speakeasy, London’s first lesbian bar, and a short story by H.G. Wells, among others.
‘Green Door’ is a cover – it had to be, right? – of a 1956 US #1 originally recorded in fairly pre-rock fashion by Jim Lowe. Frankie Vaughan took a fun big-band version to #2 over here. But I like Shakin’ Stevens’ version just as much. It rocks. And I don’t mean in a karaoke-ish, Elvis-impersonating way. It rocks, in a way that I wish more of the mid-seventies rock ‘n’ roll revival hits from the likes of Mud, Showaddywaddy and Alvin Stardust did. It still sounds completely out of place, considering ‘Ghost Town’ before, and the record coming up next, but who cares? Variety is, as they say, the spice of life, and in 1981 Shaky was bringing it to the top of the charts. He was in the middle of a red-hot streak here, and will be back in pole position again soon.
When a song both begins and ends with police sirens, then you know things might just be getting a little tense at the top of the charts…
Ghost Town, by The Specials (their 2nd and final #1)
3 weeks, 5th – 26th July 1981
What makes this record great, though, is that the tension, the anger in this record, is controlled and channelled into a brilliant pop song. In The Specials’ first #1, ‘Too Much Too Young’, the message was spat out, obnoxiously. ‘Ghost Town’ still has that two-tone anarchy, but here it’s under control. They have a plan: every note and lyric is set for maximum impact, and it’s catchy as hell.
This town, Is coming like a ghost town… The band look around Coventry, their hometown, and see clubs closed down, disenchanted kids kicking lumps out of each other… Bands won’t play no more, Too much fighting on the dance floor… They look around, and they know just who to blame.
What makes this record great (Pt II) is that they perfect a ‘haunted house’ vibe with creepy organs and eerie flutes, plus the high-pitched, ghoulish backing vocals, but at no point does it sound like a novelty record. It does mean that this song is fated to be wrongly included on Halloween playlists for the rest of eternity; but that’s a small price to pay for such a unique sounding chart-topper.
Is this the most political number one single yet? The Jam might argue their case, but I think, compared to ‘Ghost Town’, ‘Going Underground’ sounds a little one-dimensional, as great as it is. Here the social commentary is blended with the funky horns and the catchy chorus line. The anger comes through slowly, peaking when Neville Staple starts chanting: Government leaving the youth on the shelf… No jobs to be found in this country… before ending with the succinct: The people getting angry!
‘Ghost Town’ was at #1 as riots broke out across the UK in the summer of 1981, with unemployment rates heading rapidly towards three million, making it sound very prescient. Sadly, the band couldn’t enjoy their ‘told you so’ moment: they split up, according to the history books, as they were waiting to record the song’s ‘Top of the Pops’ performance. Many Coventry locals weren’t too impressed either, hearing their home described as a dying town on radios across the land. Perhaps the truth hurt too much?
I’ve got to the end of this post without mentioning my two favourite bits of this song. The brassy middle-eight, that sounds completely different to the other three minutes, all swinging and upbeat, as they reminisce about the good old days inna de boomtown... And then there’s the drumbeat, that only becomes obvious as the song fades out. It sounds really modern, like ‘90s trip-hop. It sums up a very cool, and very important, moment at the top of the charts.
I wrote in the recap just gone that the eighties had officially begun, kicked off by none other than Shakin’ Stevens. But with all due respect to Shaky, up next we have perhaps the ultimate ‘80s pop icon.
One Day in Your Life, by Michael Jackson (his 1st of seven #1s)
2 weeks, 21st June – 5th July 1981
MJ has his first solo #1. But it’s not as simple as all that. ‘One Day in Your Life’ is hardly one of his signature tunes. In fact, it’s two years older than the chart-topper he managed with his brothers in 1977: ‘Show You the Way to Go’. The Michael Jackson of 1981 was coming off the success of ‘Off the Wall’, poised, only a year away from ‘Thriller’ and world domination. But here we are.
He was just sixteen when this was recorded, in 1974, and he still sounds very young, caught between the high-pitched little kid from ‘I Want You Back’ and the megastar that recorded ‘Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough’. And it’s nice to be reminded that Jackson could actually sing – there’s no sign here of the vocal tics and squeals that make up his later hits.
It’s a song about longing, and waiting. He’s waiting for the day when his ex wakes up and realises what she’s lost: One day in your life, You’ll remember a place, Someone touching your face… And it’s a glossy, beautifully produced, slow-dance number, a good companion to the Smokey Robinson record that it knocked off the top. Like ‘Being With You’, it’s a record that reveals itself slowly. I was underwhelmed and a little bored with it at first – and it does sound dated compared to what was in the charts at this time, and compared to what Jackson was recording – but it’s a really nice song. I can’t help hearing it in a female voice, though: Dionne Warwick maybe, or Dusty…
Just call my name, And I’ll be there… I wonder if that’s a deliberate allusion to his group’s earlier hit of the same name. There are similarities between this and ‘I’ll Be There’ (they’re both ballads, for a start): this is a grown-up sequel, more teenage angst than childish optimism. Why was ‘One Day in Your Life’ a hit six years after its recording, though? It was released as the lead single from a hits compilation, and perhaps a combination of his ‘Off the Wall’ hits and The Jacksons’ second wind with disco hits like ‘Can You Feel It’ and ‘Blame It On the Boogie’ helped. It was the year’s 6th biggest selling hit, but it feels almost forgotten now, overshadowed by his monster smashes from later in the decade.
My favourite fact about Michael Jackson’s chart-career is that he only ever reached #1 in odd-numbered years (all his solo #1s, his Jacksons’ #1, even ‘We Are the World’… ’77, ’81, ’83, ’85, ’87 and so on…) It’s probably fitting, as there have been few pop stars as ‘odd’ as Jackson. Listening to this song, it’s so easy to forget the more uncomfortable side of his legacy. Probably because the teenager singing on this record was, to all intents and purposes, a completely different person to the Wacko Jacko of Bubbles the chimp, Neverland, his ‘sleepovers’, and beyond…
The last few number ones to feature in this countdown have given me the feeling that the eighties are off and running. Those songs, from Shakin’ Stevens, Bucks Fizz and Adam & The Ants, may not be among the very best that this decade has to offer, but they are unmistakably of a time and place. You might think ‘Going Underground’, or ‘Call Me’ were #1s from the 1970s, but you wouldn’t make that error with ‘Stand and Deliver!’
Before the eighties got started, we had to pay our respects to the seventies, and even the sixties. John Lennon was murdered outside his New York apartment in early-December 1980, sparking several months of mourning at the top of the UK charts. Three of his records went to number one. Two of which probably wouldn’t have if he hadn’t died (‘Starting Over’ and ‘Woman’) and one of which surely had to top the charts at some point: ‘Imagine’. We can just thank our lucky stars it was the original that belatedly did it, rather than a cover by the ‘Cast of X Factor’, or something. It’s tempting to think that the need for something lighter then prompted the success of Shakey and Adam Ant, and the mini-glam revival that they brought with them, though I’m not sure how true that would really be.
And before all that sadness, we made our way through one of the great years for chart-topping singles: 1980. The variety was huge: country yarns from Kenny Rogers, old rereleases (the theme from ‘M*A*S*H’), and reggae covers from Blondie. And then there were the all-time classics sprinkled in amongst it all: ‘Atomic’, ‘Going Underground’, ‘The Winner Takes It All‘, ‘Ashes to Ashes’… This recap barely covers a year and a third, so quick was the turnover at the top of the charts – two weeks being the norm – and that aided the mix.
Things probably weren’t as cutting-edge as last time however. The spiky creativity of new-wave had, in the large part, given way to pop from some seventies leftovers: Bowie, Blondie, ABBA with their final pair of chart-toppers, and ELO finally getting their turn at the top in collaboration with Olivia Newton-John. Even the Bee Gees made an appearance, though as songwriters for Barbra Streisand rather than under their own steam. But it wasn’t all ‘oldies’: The Jam staked their claim as the biggest band in the country with a couple of #1s, and Dexys Midnight Runners hit top-spot with a genre-bending tribute to a soul legend.
And before I dish out my awards, it’s worth checking in on old Father Disco. Update: he’s still not dead, despite what they’d have you believe. Although the genre’s peak passed several recaps ago, various recent #1s still have that unmistakeable beat, and those swirling strings: ‘Together We Are Beautiful’, TheDetroit Spinners, and Kelly Marie (who upped the tempo even more to give us a glimpse into the future of ‘80s dance-pop), right through to our most recent chart-topper from Smokey Robinson.
To the awards, then. In fact, this time the four winners have fallen into place very easily. There’s not been much deliberation needed at all. First up, The ‘Meh’ Award for forgettability. This one required the most thinking – I could have swayed to Fern Kinney, to ‘Crying’, to Smokey, even to ‘Woman’ – but in truth Johnny Logan’s Eurovision snooze-fest was always out in front. ‘What’s Another Year’ takes the crown this time around.
On to The ‘WTAF’ Award, dished out to those number ones that you just don’t quite get but at least they’re interesting. Again it’s an easy decision – the only other possibility being ‘Suicide Is Painless’ for its ten-year overdue success. But no. Step forward Joe Dolce and his Music Theatre for puncturing the Great John Lennon Mourning Period with his slice of Italian nonsense. No, you ‘Shaddap You Face’!
And speaking of easy decisions. It’s not often that a record as ear-achingly bad as ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’ comes along. I haven’t even considered what I would’ve named The Very Worst Chart-Topper if the boys and girls of St. Winifred’s School Choir hadn’t nabbed a Christmas number one. Because, let’s be honest, there can be no discussion. Looking down my ‘very worst’ list, there are some ‘bad’ chart-toppers that can count themselves unlucky to be sharing such hideous company…
And finally: The Very Best Chart-Topper. The sixteenth time it has been awarded and, to be honest, I’ve been planning this one for a while. I try to not plan my awards too far ahead, but since starting this blog, and these recaps, I’ve know that this record would be winning this award. And it helps that it’s only real competition – ‘Atomic’ – is ineligible thanks to my one award per artist rule. ‘Heart of Glass’ won last time out, and so the coast is clear for ‘The Winner Takes It All’ to reign supreme. ‘Waterloo’ finished third, ‘Dancing Queen’ finished second… ABBA’s best single finally wins it.
To recap the recaps:
The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:
‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver.
‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, by Art Garfunkel.
‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ / ‘The First Cut Is the Deepest’, by Rod Stewart.
‘Three Times a Lady’, by The Commodores.
‘What’s Another Year’, by Johnny Logan.
The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:
‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas.
‘If’, by Telly Savalas.
‘Wuthering Heights’, by Kate Bush.
‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’, by Ian Dury & The Blockheads.
‘Shaddap You Face’, by Joe Dolce Music Theatre.
The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:
‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
‘The Streak’, by Ray Stevens.
‘No Charge’, by J. J. Barrie
‘Don’t Give Up On Us’, by David Soul
‘One Day at a Time’, by Lena Martell.
‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’, by St. Winifred’s School Choir.
The Very Best Chart-Toppers:
‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.
‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud.
‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie.
‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer.
‘Heart of Glass’, by Blondie.
‘The Winner Takes It All’, by ABBA.
In a couple of days we’ll continue on through the early 1980s. And up next: things get even more eighties, as the decade’s biggest star scores his first solo #1.
You’re listening to the silky smooth sounds of Smooth Radio, and up next we have a sexy soul number from Smokey Robinson…
Being With You, by Smokey Robinson (his 2nd of two #1s)
2 weeks, 7th – 21st June 1981
After building a nice, oh-so-eighties, head of steam with Shakey, Bucks Fizz, and the aggressively modern Adam & The Ants, we’re temporarily dragged back a few years to the slick, glossy days of the mid-late seventies. And wait… That piercing sax line sounds mighty familiar. It’s… ‘Baker Street’, right? At least, it sounds like someone launching into ‘Baker Street’, before quickly realising that this isn’t the right song.
I don’t care what they think about me and, I don’t care what they say… A disco beat and soft-rock guitars soundtrack this unrepentant tale. Smokey is prepared to commit social suicide, to lose friends and relations, just to be with a woman. I don’t care about anything else but being with you, Being with you… His voice sounds softer, older… In fact pretty unrecognisable from his earlier chart-topping hit, ‘The Tears of a Clown’. It’s still a fine voice, though.
At first, this is simply pleasant background music but, after a few listens, I’m starting to come around to this record’s slowly revealed charms. It’s a solidly written pop song, maybe suffering from not being as cheesily instant as, say, ‘Making Your Mind Up’. Yet it’s still lacking a definite hook, something to grab onto, something to explain why this record became a #1 single.
I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever heard this song before, though I’m sure it does still get some late-night spins on Smooth Radio and the like. But, regardless of this record being slightly on the dull side, it is very impressive that Smokey Robinson was able to score a chart-topping single this far into his career. He was forty-one when this record came out, having released his first discs (with the Miracles) as far back as 1958.
In the UK, none of Robinson’s other solo releases came anywhere near to the top of the charts, but in the US he was more of a presence. He scored a Top 20 album a few years ago, and has duetted with current chart star Anderson Paak, one half of Silk Sonic, on their Grammy Award winning album. He is bona-fide pop music legend. Next up for us… a recap.
I’ve just realised something… The eighties have finally begun. 1980 was full of stars – Blondie, Bowie, ABBA and ELO – but they were stars from the seventies. Our recent number ones have introduced us to some brand new stars, huge names of the early ‘80s: Shakin’ Stevens, Bucks Fizz and now, biggest of all, Adam Ant.
Stand and Deliver, by Adam & The Ants (their 1st of two #1s)
5 weeks, 3rd May – 7th June 1981
Punk, New-Wave and something else collide here. What that something is I couldn’t say… but it is very new and very thrilling. And very eighties. It’s frantic – there are horns, sound effects, nonsense chanting, and a band dressed as eighteenth century highwaymen… As I said in my last post, glam is back, baby!
I’m the dandy highwayman, That you’re too scared to mention, I spend my cash on looking flash, And grabbing your attention… It’s a statement of intent, this record: a war-cry to kids across the land to ditch old-folks’ fashions, to slap chunky blocks of make-up on their faces, and join the insect nation… It’s the sort of song your nan would have screwed her face to during TOTP, wondering just what was wrong with young folk these days.
There’s a bit of everything here. We go from the verses, in which Adam Ant sounds like Ray Davies trying his hand at rapping, to a Shadows-esque surf-rock solo with monkish chanting for backing. And the main hook is a killer: Stand and deliver, Your money or your life… And I mean literally a killer – it’s what Dick Turpin would have shouted back in his heyday. Meanwhile, the music video – we need more and more often to start referencing the videos for #1 singles now – sees Adam and his band holding up carriages full of uncool types clutching their lame records. Rather than robbing them, he shows how terrible they look in his foppish, handheld mirror.
It’s certainly a breath of fresh air, and there’s a feeling of a new musical order starting to assert itself. And there’s a great pop song here, underneath all the frippery (that’s a nice way to sum up the entire 1980s, to be honest). Adam and the Ants hadn’t appeared out of nowhere, though – they had been around since 1977, and had been scoring Top 10 hits for a year or so before this smash.
And a ‘smash’ it was. ‘Stand and Deliver’ entered at #1, which means the band were at the same level of popularity as The Jam and The Police. Plus its five-week run at the top is the longest of the decade so far. They were a band that burned brightly, but briefly, and they and their charismatic leader will be back with a couple more equally manic chart-toppers in pretty soon.
In which we arrive at what is perhaps the Ultimate Eurovision Song. Everything you want and need from a Eurovision winner is present and correct: stupidly catchy, key changes a-plenty, two guys and two girls, a memorable dance routine… and the whole thing as camp as Christmas.
Making Your Mind Up, by Bucks Fizz (their 1st of three #1s)
3 weeks, 12th April – 3rd May 1981
Not that, mind you, I’m claiming this as the best Eurovision chart-topper. Oh no, no, no. There’ll always be ‘Waterloo’ (and Gina G further down the line…) But if you shoved a microphone in someone’s face and screamed ‘Name a Eurovision act!’, half the British population, of a certain age, would say Bucks Fizz.
It starts with a chugging glam-rock drumbeat, and then in come some chugging glam guitars and you suddenly realise that we’re in the midst of a mini glam revival, what with this coming hot on the heels of Shakin’ Stevens’ rockabilly and an actual glam band’s belated #1. Meanwhile the lead guitars are kind of new-wave – seriously, detach them from the rest of this and they wouldn’t sound out of place on a Police record.
You gotta speed it up, And then you gotta slow it down… Not to suggest that this is anything other than a cheese-fest, though. And the lyrics verge from incredibly dumb to bizarrely suggestive. I have no idea if they were trying for innuendo with lines like: Don’t let your indecision, Take you from behind… and You gotta turn it up, Then you gotta pull it out… or if my mind is simply in the gutter.
(Apparently ‘Making Your Mind Up’ was released without a picture sleeve in the UK. Very 1960s…)
For the third time in eight years, a two-guys/two-girls combo won the Eurovision Song Contest. While Bucks Fizz were not ABBA, I’d say they were a step up from Brotherhood of Man. They were only formed a couple of months before entering the contest, but this smash kicked off several years’ worth of hits. And if the song wasn’t enough to win the contest, the band had a trick up their sleeve. In the 3rd verse, on the line: If you wanna see some more… the boys ripped the girls’ long skirts off to reveal much shorter skirts underneath! The continent gasped! I mean, the word ‘iconic’ is overused these days, but…
I have to say that, as revealing as the girls’ costumes were, watching the performance in full for the first time I can say that the boys’ white trousers weren’t leaving much to the imagination either. Bucks Fizz (even their name is ridiculous…) will be back atop the charts soon. Until then, you have two options: roll your eyes and pretend you’re too cool for school; or whip out your scandalously short mini-skirt and go for it. Make your mind up!