506. ‘Come On Eileen’, by Dexys Midnight Runners

You can imagine, when this next number one started getting airplay on radios up and down the country, people pausing for a moment. What’s this? It’s an intriguing intro, a mix of country and funk. Not something you hear every day…

Come On Eileen, by Dexys Midnight Runners (their 2nd and final #1) & The Emerald Express

4 weeks, 1st – 29th August 1982

And then a glissando. Do glissandos ever lead to anything bad? You need self-confidence to use them – you don’t just go around throwing glissandos around willy-nilly – but they always enhance. Into an Irish jigging, beer sloshing, knees-up of a song. Try not dancing to this. Just try!

Kevin Rowland’s vocals are as hard to make out as they were on ‘Geno’ (probably the only similarity between this and Dexys’ first chart-topper). I think that’s part of the appeal – when you’re drunk and jiving along you can just make them up! Come on Eileen, I swear I’ll be mean, I’ll come on less, Take off on every wing…

The line that I could always make out was the opening one: Poor old Johnnie Ray… Shout out to Mr. Ray, AKA The Prince of Wails, my favourite of the pre-rock chart-toppers. Footage of him also featured in the video. After that, it’s the story of a boy trying to seduce a well brought-up Catholic girl. You in that dress, My thoughts I confess, Verge on dirty…

I like the fact that she means everything to him… at this moment. Don’t do it, Eileen. He’s not to be trusted! And then there’s the best bit – the middle eight, where we slow down to a beer-hall stomp that gradually gets faster and faster. It’s pure music hall. It’s outrageously catchy. It’s one of the eighties’ biggest hits; but one that sounds completely out of place in this, or any, decade.

Do Irish people secretly hate this song? All the too-ra-loo-rahs might get on my nerves if I were from the Emerald Isle. We just need a ‘begorrah’ to cap it all off. Maybe it’s the Irish equivalent of ‘Hoots Mon’ (though I’m Scottish, and I loved that one). And at least Kevin Rowland is of Irish descent. Dexys had only had one further Top 10 hit since ‘Geno’, and this was the lead single from only their 2nd album. The ‘Emerald Express’ featured in the title was just for show – though the band did go through several line-up changes in their short time together.

And I’m going to end on something of a downer. As fun as ‘Come On Eileen’ is – and it is hard to write a song that is such a communal crowd-pleaser – I feel it’s been bestowed with almost mythic qualities. There’s a scene in ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ where the cool kids hear the song’s opening bars and act as if they’ve heard the voice of God himself. Is it one of the greatest ever chart-toppers? Is it transcendent? Or is it just the perfect song to throw on towards the end of a wedding disco, so that your drunken uncle can do the can-can?

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505. ‘Fame’, by Irene Cara

Disco beats and hard rock guitars meet in our next number one, one that is both a nod back to the late-seventies and a glance forward to the rest of the 1980s…

Fame, by Irene Cara (her 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, 11th July – 1st August 1982

First the retro bit: a gloriously funky and filthy disco riff. This is a song that sounds like it was recorded at the peak of the genre: part ‘Hot Stuff’ and part ‘Tragedy’. It already, in this respect, sounds a little dated. No, not dated – that sounds negative – nostalgic. Irene Cara also sounds every inch the disco diva, especially belting out lines like: You ain’t seen the best of me yet, Give me time I’ll make you forget the rest…

But when the guitars kick in, turning the synthy disco bits into soaring rock, suddenly you’re hearing all the power ballads and hair metal twiddling still to come in this decade. Irene Cara is also in on this: there’s has a rocky edge to her voice too. Listen to the way she draws out the got what it takes… line. Premonitions of Bonnie Tyler, Jennifer Rush, and other shoulder-padded eighties power-divas.

Fame! I’m gonna live forever… This could be an obnoxious-sounding song, all about how amazingly famous the singer is going to be. The soundtrack to every annoying drama-school wannabe. But it doesn’t come across that way. There’s enough grit to it, Cara selling it completely. Why the hell can’t she live forever?? I was ready to be underwhelmed by this record, for it to be a dated, cheesy film tune, but it’s not. My advice: go for the 12” mix – five minutes with lots more of the gnarly guitars. (And yes, I did just say ‘gnarly’.)

Part of the reason why this sounds a little retro is the fact that the movie ‘Fame’ – in which Irene Cara stars – was released in 1980. It took a tie-in TV series for the record to smash in the UK two years later. Cara had been a Broadway star for several years, but this was her first single. She is probably even better remembered for her other giant soundtrack hit: ‘Flashdance… What a Feeling’ (more song titles should use an ellipsis…) that would make #2, and #1 in the US, in a year’s time. For what it’s worth, I prefer ‘Fame’.

Sadly, though, Cara’s fame has not really lived forever. She is still active – she formed a band called Hot Caramel (presumably because Hot Chocolate was already taken) in 1999 – but has had few British hits outside her two biggies. Except, having performed two of the 1980’s biggest and best-remembered film tunes, who needs more hits? Why is being a one or two hit wonder a bad thing, when your two hits are classics? Come on, Irene – take it away!…. (that may or may not have been a hint as to our next #1…)

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504. ‘Happy Talk’, by Captain Sensible

In which ‘South Pacific’ meets punk rock meets kids party singalong…

Happy Talk, by Captain Sensible (his 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, 27th June – 11th July 1982

This is a record you can’t properly imagine until you’ve heard it. If that opening sentence left you stumped, then just go ahead and press play before reading my attempts to describe it… I know, right? It’s woozy, a bit trippy, very end-of-the-pier rinky-dink. And to be honest, I quite like it.

Happy talkin’, Talkin’ happy talk, Talk about things you’d like to do… I’ve never seen ‘South Pacific’, and so wasn’t sure how faithful this cover was. But it is pretty similar to the original showtune, with the brass and strings replaced by very ‘of their time’ synths. It reminds me, a little, of Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s wild take on ‘It’s My Party’: another classic tune done up for the early eighties. Only less unhinged.

Well, slightly less unhinged. In the video, and on Top of the Pops, Captain Sensible, dressed as half pimp-half pirate, gives the impression that he is well under the influence of something a bit stronger than coffee. There’s a dancing parrot, too, and a backing girl-group called the Dolly Mixtures. You’ve got to have a dream, If you don’t have a dream, How you gonna have a dream come true?

That there is a hook I can get behind. I’m not one for motivational messages in songs, but this one can’t be argued with. No dreams = no dreams coming true. Simple. Cue the organs. It’s one of the more unexpected themes of 1981-82: chart-toppers that sound like fairground rides. ‘Ghost Town’, ‘House of Fun’, now this. Was it intentional? Or is it just that they were using cheap synths? It also calls to mind Adam Ant’s use of music hall brass from ‘Goody Two Shoes’.

Captain Sensible’s day job was as a member of The Damned (the first British punk act to release a single back in 1976) and this record featured on his first solo album. The giant shift in sound from punk to this might be explained by the fact he had become a pacifist vegetarian the year before. The punk-est moment comes when the Captain leaves a big old pause in the Golly baby I’m a lucky cu…….ss… line that has you wondering if he’s about to drop a giant ‘c’-bomb in this family-friendly single (Although you could also argue that him recording an old showtune in this novelty style is already as punk as it gets…)

I’ve said it many times before: at least make your songs interesting. This one certainly is. A harmless singalong for the kids and their grannies, that actually subverts by just existing. Captain Sensible wouldn’t have many other hits, while The Damned have reformed and disbanded several times over the years. He has also formed his own political party (the ‘Blah!’ Party), and – much more impressively – recorded the theme song for nineties snooker/quiz show ‘Big Break’.

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503. ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’, by Charlene

Slowing things down considerably, after the e-numbers overdose of Madness and Adam Ant, Charlene has some life advice, some pearls of wisdom, some preaching to do…

I’ve Never Been to Me, by Charlene (her 1st and only #1)

1 week, 20th – 27th June 1982

Hey lady, she intros, You lady, Cursin’ at your life… She’s a discontented mother, this lady, and a regimented wife. It’s a bit of a harsh opening verse. Alright, Charlene, take it down a notch! Meanwhile the music is very easy listening, the softest of country lilts.

Who the ‘lady’ is is never specified. Whether she wants Charlene’s advice is neither here nor there. She’s getting it. This is a sanctimonious, humble-brag of a song. Charlene lists all the things she’s done – guzzling champagne on yachts, gambling in Monte Carlo, making love in the sun – before trying to pretend that it wasn’t all that fun. I’ve been to paradise, But I’ve never been to me… (honest!)

Some of the rhymes are true clankers: Oh I’ve been to Nice, And the isles of Greece… I’ve been undressed by kings, And I’ve seen some things, That a women should never see… At this point I’m rating this record as ‘iffy’ at best, ‘pretty crap’ at worst. Until Charlene starts talking, that is, sending this song into the realms of the truly awful.

I won’t quote the spoken word section verbatim. The gist is: paradise is actually soothing your screaming baby and arguing with your husband. Paradise is duty. Paradise is definitely not champagne and casinos. Who wrote this? It sounds as if it were commissioned by a mega-church, in order to promote Christian values through the radio-waves. I’m sure you can claim that the song is an argument for taking pleasure in the small things, in accepting happiness wherever you can find it, but I’m not having it. For a start, as Charlene lists all her escapades, she does not sound like she regrets any of it. No way has she cried for the unborn children that might have made me complete. She was too busy shagging her way around the south of France… Whoever the ‘lady’ in the song is, I hope she told Chaz to piss off after she’d finished her sermon.

Of course, ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’ was a giant hit around the world, because people will always gobble this sort of nonsense up. Though it took a while for the song to take off. Originally released in 1977, it took a DJ in Tampa to start its second wind. Charlene was in semi-retirement, and took some convincing to come back and promote the song. And imagine my surprise when I discovered that this was a Motown release! The label that sent The Supremes and The Four Tops, and ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ to the top of the charts is also responsible for this… It was the label’s first big hit featuring a white female vocalist.

‘I’ve Never Been to Me’ has been recorded in Czech and German, Cantonese, Korean and several times in Japanese. It has also been re-claimed as a camp classic in the decades that have followed, beloved of drag queens and cabaret shows. It’s a silver lining, I suppose, that not everyone is taking this song seriously. But it’s still a terrible record. Next please!

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502. ‘Goody Two Shoes’, by Adam Ant

In which Adam breaks away from the Ants, and goes solo with a chilled-out, lo-fi, slow-burn debut…

Goody Two Shoes, by Adam Ant (his 1st and only solo #1)

2 weeks, 6th – 20th June 1982

Or not. ‘Goody Two Shoes’ is even more frenetic than either of his band’s chart-toppers. It’s a bit of throwback – twanging rockabilly mixed with a jiving big-band brass section – and it’s all kept galloping along by a relentlessly simple drum beat that Does. Not. Let. Up. Once.

Like ‘Prince Charming’ it is a repetitive song that you need to be in the mood for. Goody two goody two goody goody two shoes… I can see why this might get on some people’s nerves. But if you are in the mood for Adam’s hyperactive musical mind, then this is a great pop single, and the perfect song on which to launch a solo career. We don’t follow fashion, That would be a joke…

People repeat to Adam (in the video it’s a crowd of journalists) the song’s iconic hook: Don’t drink, Don’t smoke, What do you do…? He doesn’t give the press what they want! He doesn’t conform! Is he up to something…!? This might be the first chart-topping example of a ‘haters gonna hate’ hit, the art form so beloved of Taylor Swift. No-one’s gonna tell me, Who to eat with, Sleep with…

What does he do, then? In the lyrics, the answer is an ambiguous: Must be something inside… In the video it’s a little less subtle: he takes the sexiest journalist to bed and shows her just what he does do. Phwoar! It is a bit repetitive, but it’s short, and pacy, and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Of Ant’s three number ones in just over a year, I’d sandwich this nearer to ‘Stand and Deliver!’ (the best) than ‘Prince Charming’ (the worst).

For this record he kept a guitarist and the drummer from his earlier band, letting the other members go due to a ‘lack of enthusiasm’. Sadly this didn’t launch Adam Ant to a long-lasting solo career. He’d have two more Top 10s and two more albums before moving into acting later in the decade (shout out here for my favourite of his solo singles, the characteristically bonkers ‘Apollo 9’). There have been a few comeback albums, alongside some mental health issues. He still writes and performs, and has a tour ready to go when covid allows.

I may not have truly loved any of his chart-toppers, but I am glad that Adam Ant has had his moment at the top of the UK charts. A year in which he was undeniably the biggest pop star in the country. He’s a true British eccentric, always interesting, with a great sense for the theatricality of pop. Line this up alongside the preceding #1, Madness’s ‘House of Fun’, and it has made for a technicoloured, hyperactive double at the top of the charts.

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501. ‘House of Fun’, by Madness

On then with the next five hundred. With only the second ska act to hit top spot…

House of Fun, by Madness (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, 23rd May – 6th June 1982

In many ways this is a world away from The Specials, both the punky snarl of ‘Too Much Too Young’ and the subtle anger of ‘Ghost Town’. And yet there are clear similarities too. There are a lot of the same instruments here, for example. They’re just being used in a more fun way. A lot of horns (‘horn’ being the key word here…)

Not many songs have been written about the ordeals of teenage boys trying to buy their first box of condoms. There may only have been one: this one. But ‘House of Fun’ is pretty definitive. After this, nobody else needed to bother. Sixteen today, And up for fun, I’m a big boy now, Or so they say… The lad knows what he wants, but he can’t bring himself to say it. He asks for ‘balloons’, ‘party poppers’ and ‘party hats with the coloured tips’…

Welcome to the house of fun, Now I’ve come of age… Fittingly, the song title itself is a double-entendre. The ‘House of Fun’ refers to the terrifying world of sex that this boy is glimpsing… Welcome to the lion’s den, Temptation’s on its way… But it’s also the name of the joke shop that the cashier packs him off to with a flea in his ear.

I’m loathe to say it, because I don’t think our sense of humour is as unique as we like to think, but this is very British. Very music-hall-for-the-1980s, pantomime, nudge nudge wink wink… It’s cheeky, and chirpy, and genuinely funny in the third verse when the boy’s nosy neighbours enter the shop and sense gossip unfolding. Madness are not a band I know especially well, away from the big hits, and I’ve always found them slightly… annoying? ‘Driving in My Car’ and ‘Our House’ are a bit too perky for my liking. Here, though, the cheekiness of the song sees it through. I’m glad that it was this record that gave the band their sole number one.

Another similarity to their chart-topping ska predecessors is the way in which this record mimics ‘Ghost Town’s fairground vibe. That was the haunted house, obviously, while this is a runaway rollercoaster. The album version in particular has a pretty cool finale in which the song crashes to an end and fades out on an old-fashioned organ. Interestingly, ‘House of Fun’ existed for a long time without the chorus, which was created in order for it be released as a single.

Madness, then, join the illustrious club of huge acts with just one #1 to their name… Dusty Springfield, Status Quo, ELO… ‘House of Fun’ was the band’s eleventh Top 10 single. I was first aware of them thanks to lead singer Suggs’ solo career in the mid-90s, when he re-introduced the world to Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Cecilia’. But his band were untouchable in the early-‘80s, with only one release from a run of sixteen (!) failing to make the Top 10, between 1979 and 1983. They are the band with the highest number of weeks in the charts for the entire decade (tied with UB40), and were scoring hits well into the 21st century.

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Cover Versions of #1s – Joan Jett & Oasis

For my last two covers of the week, I’m going back to the age of glam. I do miss the days when every second chart-topper was a glam-rock stomper…

‘I Love You Love Me Love’, by Joan Jett – originally a #1 in 1973 for you-know-who.

The only problem with ‘the age of glam’ is that one of its biggest stars turned out to be a prolific sex-offender. Despite trying not to, I did enjoy the first two of Gary Glitter’s three #1s. How to listen to them these days, though, without feeling a bit icky? Luckily, Americans have no idea who Glitter is/was, and are happy to use his music at sporting events and in the soundtracks to major Hollywood movies. Joan Jett made a habit of covering old 60s and 70s tunes and giving them a power-rock feel in the eighties. (Yes, I know, he probably still gets royalties. I didn’t say it was a perfect plan…)

‘Cum on Feel the Noize’, by Oasis – originally a #1 in 1973, for Slade

I have complicated feelings towards Oasis. They were once my favourite band (if you were a teenage boy, growing up in suburban Scotland, in the late 90s, you had to love Oasis, it was as good as law). But I don’t listen to them much these days. Liam and Noel are as moronic as they are funny, and they attract a certain type of ‘fan’… And yet, watching this performance at Maine Road, at the height of their popularity, you can see why they were so huge, and it proves anyone who thinks Liam couldn’t sing very wrong. Obnoxious lines like: So you think my singing’s out of time, Well it makes me money… might well have been custom-written for him. Oasis are famously mocked for copying the Beatles, but I’ve also heard them described as ‘Status Slade’. I think whoever said that meant to be bitchy, but I can’t think of a more fun sounding hybrid band. Anyway, I’ll have plenty of time to reassess Oasis when I cover their eight #1s – ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’ was a ‘B’-side to their second (and best…?) chart-topper, ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’.

Next week it’s back to the usual countdown, starting with chart-topper number 501.

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Cover Versions of #1s – G4 and Paris Hilton

No, don’t run. Come back! I know that title is enough to scare off any right-minded person, but bear with me. Yes, good cover versions are all fine and dandy. But there’s also pleasure to be had from a bad cover version…

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, by G4 (originally a #1 in 1975, for Queen)

If ever a song was ‘uncoverable’, then that song is probably ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Credit then to pop-opera (Popera?) group G4, for giving it a go, and for proving just how impossible a job it is. It’s not that it’s a shockingly bad record; it simply adds nothing to the original. The vocals reach nothing like the heights (quite literally) of Freddie Mercury, and the music is karaoke backing track at best. They should have gone somewhere different with it – full-on opera treatment, a capella, something… G4 were runners-up in the very first season of the X-Factor in 2004, finishing behind Steve Brookstein, who we will sadly have to deal with in our regular countdown… This was their only UK hit. I remembered it existing, but I had completely forgot that this version actually made #9 in the charts!

‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’, by Paris Hilton (originally a #1 in 1978, for Rod Stewart)

The thought of Paris Hilton covering ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’ is almost too obvious to be true. No comedy writer would dare be so unimaginative. But here we are. The final track on her thus far only album ‘Paris’ sees Hilton breathing her way through this pretty faithful cover of Rod Stewart’s polarising 5th #1 single. Since this album came out in 2006, she has drip fed us a string of singles, including 2019’s brilliantly titled ‘B.F.A. (Best Friend’s Ass)’. Of course she has never topped her first single, the… *whisper it very softly* … actually quite brilliant, reggae-tinged, ‘Stars Are Blind’.

The final two covers tomorrow!

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Cover Versions of #1s – The Fratellis and Weezer

Day Two of ‘cover versions’ week, and I’m being a bit self-indulgent. I’m including this pair not because I think they are amazing covers, but because they are by two of my favourite bands. Bands that will come nowhere near to featuring on my regular countdown, so here’s their moment…

The Fratellis – ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’ (originally a #1 in 1977, for Baccara)

Like Miley Cyrus yesterday, this is another cover done for radio. Although a desire to cover ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’ would be completely understandable by anyone, at any time, there is a little bit of context here. The Fratellis are Glaswegian, big football fans, and the Scottish national team had just qualified for the European Championships – their first tournament appearance in twenty-three years. ‘Yes Sir…’ was adopted as the team’s unofficial anthem, after a video of the players dancing to the song went viral. In the run-up to the tournament T-shirts were printed with the lyrics, the song title became a hashtag, and Baccara themselves put their full support behind the campaign. Scotland, as tradition demands, went out at the group stage… Away from this cover, The Fratellis are a band well worth discovering. Their biggest hit in the UK was glam-rock anthem ‘Chelsea Dagger’ – a #5 from 2006 that you all know, even if you don’t realise it.

Weezer – ‘Are Friends Electric’ (originally a #1 in 1979, for Tubeway Army)

I love Weezer. I love the Weezer that everybody loves (The Blue Album), and I love the Weezer that many people hate (everything they’ve released since The Blue Album). I even love ‘Raditude’. And I admired Gary Numan’s futuristic electro-chart topper, but I can’t help enjoying it a little bit more with Weezer’s trademark crunchy guitars. Crunchy Weezer guitars make everything better. This was released as the ‘B’-side to 2008 single ‘Pork and Beans’ (one of the band’s classics). Like The Fratellis, Weezer will never trouble the #1 slot – their biggest hit in the UK was 2005’s ‘Beverly Hills’, which made #9. They’re a bit better known than The Fratellis, but still worth discovering in more depth. Even ‘Raditude’.

Two more tomorrow…

Cover Versions of #1s – The Dee Gees & Miley Cyrus

As a celebration for reaching 500 (!!) #1s, I’m going to spend the rest of the week treating you to some cover versions of #1s. First up, some 2020s takes on a couple of disco classics…

The Dee Gees – ‘Tragedy’ (originally a #1 in 1979 for The Bee Gees)

There are some people for whom Steps did the definitive cover of ‘Tragedy’. (They do exist…) Luckily for them, that version will feature at #1 in its own right. So, stepping up to the plate with their own cover… The Dee Gees. Ok, ok… Foo Fighters! For their most recent album, the band devoted half of the run-time to covers of late-seventies Bee Gees hits. ‘Night Fever’, ‘You Should Be Dancing’… But I’ve gone for this one. It’s a pretty faithful cover – I do wish they’d gone a little more ‘rawk’ – though Dave Grohl’s falsetto is a majestic thing to behold. There was a time when rock bands wouldn’t have touched disco with the end of a smashed-up guitar. Those days are gone, hurrah! And isn’t ‘Hail Satin’ just the perfect album name for a hard rock band’s disco covers?

Miley Cyrus – ‘Heart of Glass’ (originally a #1 in 1979 for Blondie)

In the past twenty years, it’s become the thing for current chart acts to do live sets for radio stations and streaming services. Radio 1 kicked it off, in the UK at least, with their ‘Live Lounge’ series. Here then, is Miley Cyrus belting her way through ‘Heart of Glass, from the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas in 2020. It’s not the subtlest take on the song, and it’s a pretty faithful cover like The Dee Gees, but there’s something compelling in the way she just goes for it. Folks agreed, because this made #38 in the UK charts (quite unusual for a live cover version).

Two more tomorrow…

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