It’s easy to laugh at some of the worst excesses of the 1980s. The size of the hair! The size of the shoulder-pads! Huge mobile phones! Mountains of cocaine! Well, at least two of those things are in play for our next #1: hair and shoulder pads. (I wouldn’t rule out the cocaine, either…)
Total Eclipse of the Heart, by Bonnie Tyler (her 1st and only #1)
2 weeks, 6th – 20th March 1983
Like I said, looking back, it’s common to sneer at certain aspects of the 1980s – in a way that doesn’t seem to happen with any of the other decades currently within human memory – but when they combine to produce something as outrageous as ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, then you’ve got to be glad they happened.
First things first: this is a duet. Kind of. There’s a significant, if uncredited, male voice throughout – one Rory Dodd. Make no mistake, though. This is Bonnie Tyler’s song. She sings it like she’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown, like she’s just downed that third glass of wine, like her very life depends on belting these lines out. And there are so many great lines. For a start: I’m living in a powder keg and giving off sparks! (For many, many years I had no idea what she was singing here. It wasn’t a misheard mondegreen; I simply had no idea what a ‘baldergag’ was…) Or the howled: And I need you now tonight…
Then there’s the classic chorus line: Once upon a time I was falling in love, Now I’m only falling apart… It’s the musical equivalent of a telenovela actor’s slow-motion swoon, but it works. What is a total eclipse of the heart..? It’s madness brought on by love. It’s poetry, that’s what it is. This was a bit of a comeback for Bonnie Tyler – her first real hit for six or seven years – and you feel that she could sense this as she recorded it. She leaves nothing behind out there, as they say on ‘Match of the Day’.
But actually, Tyler is only 50% responsible for this record’s brilliance. The rest lies with Jim Steinman’s writing and production. The moment when those enormous eighties drums come thumping in – like Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound on steroids –is actually hair-raising. Later on there are explosions, thunder and lightning… and sleigh bells. Was this originally meant to be a festive release? Or did Steinman simply see nothing wrong with sleigh bells in a February release? I hope it’s the latter…
This is a power ballad. It’s probably the ultimate power ballad. It’s certainly the first ‘modern’ power ballad to top the charts. (Honourable mentions to Nilsson’s ‘Without You’, and Babs’ ‘A Woman in Love’.) And though it’s a genre synonymous with ‘80s excess, there aren’t too many of them that will top the UK charts in the coming years. In fact, the next #1 to rival ‘Total Eclipse…’ for first-clenching pomposity might well be the next one written and produced by Steinman, which won’t be for another decade…
We can’t finish this post without mentioning the video. Bonnie Tyler is a teacher in a boys boarding school, who spends her nights prowling the corridors in a white negligée, imagining boys at their desks having their shirts ripped open by wind-machines, fencing in the halls and, by the end, prancing around her in loin cloths a la ‘Lord of the Flies’. Well, a song like this couldn’t have any old, common-or-garden music video, could it…?
‘Total Eclipse…’ offers a different side of the eighties to our previous #1, ‘Billie Jean’. One is slick and modern; the other completely OTT. If I had to choose which side of the decade I’d like to remember, and which song I’d like to come on towards the end of a night out, then it would be this one. And the British public agrees. Sort of. ‘Total Eclipse…’ was voted as the 3rd best #1 of the ‘80s (with ‘Billie Jean’ in 2nd) but, much more importantly, it won a 2013 poll of ‘Best Songs to Sing in the Shower’.
In my last post, on Kajagoogoo’s ‘Too Shy’ I announced it as the eighties-est moment yet. (I also quite liked the intro.) And here we have a ginormous smash hit that is even more ‘eighties’, from the biggest album of the decade, by the biggest star of the decade. (With another pretty cool intro.)
Billie Jean, by Michael Jackson (his 2nd of seven solo #1s)
1 week, 27th February – 6th March 1983
We won’t come across many songs more famous than ‘Billie Jean’ on this countdown. Everyone knows it, has danced to it, has sang along to it. We’re familiar with every ‘hee’ and every ‘hoo’. But it’s the sort of ultra-ubiquitous song that you don’t – or I don’t, at least – stop to pay attention to anymore. And what stands out now is how much there is going on. In my head, ‘Billie Jean’ is that bass riff and Jackson’s voice. But there’s a lot more than that.
There are strings, finger-clicks, a guitar, and about ten different synth lines and effects. It doesn’t feel cluttered, though. Everything is in its right place, where and when it needs to be. Even the vocal ad-libs feel planned and thought-out beforehand. You could argue that music this well-produced can come across as soulless, and you might have a point. But that would be a harsh criticism of an almost perfect pop song.
Billie Jean is not my lover, She’s just a girl who claims that I am the one… It’s a grown-up topic for a former child star. Billie Jean was an amalgam of the groupies who had thrown themselves at his older brothers in the Jackson 5. But the kid is not my son… And the singer of this record sounds like a different person to the boy from his first #1, ‘One Day in Your Life’ – a false start if ever there was one. This is the moonwalking, ‘hee-hee’-ing MJ, who has been parodied ever since. It’s also the first sign of a troubled Michael Jackson, in the ominous lyrics and the paranoid vocals. Of the fact that being world-famous since the age of ten might have made him a little… odd.
Since it’s the 1980s, and this is Michael Jackson, we also have to take the famous music video into the equation. Like the song as a whole, it’s a video I could picture without ever having watched in its entirety. My main take-aways… Jackson still looks very young (he was only twenty-four), there are more cats than I remembered, and it actually looks pretty dated in its slow-motion sequences and its graphics. It suits the song well, though, which isn’t something you can always say about Jackson’s later videos, where it felt like he was just throwing money at them rather than trying to tell a story.
Famously, ‘Billie Jean’ was one of the first songs by a black artist to get played on MTV. But that was only after the president of CBS records threatened to pull all the label’s other acts from the channel. You could spend a day lost down the rabbit-hole of ‘Billie Jean’ trivia. Producer Quincy Jones, for example, didn’t think it was strong enough to even be an album track. My favourite factoid, though? That someone suggested the song be called ‘Not My Lover’, lest people thought Jackson was singing about tennis legend Billie Jean King.
As is so often the case with the biggest stars, the UK singles charts never really played fair when it came to MJ’s imperial phase. ‘Billie Jean’ got a solitary week on top of the charts. While almost all the other singles taken from ‘Thriller’ –famously there were seven from the one album – were Top 10 hits, he only has one further #1 in this decade. But, despite not being the biggest-selling, or longest-lasting, number one ‘Billie Jean’ will probably outlive us all. Deep into the 21st century it is still regularly voted as ‘Best Pop/Dance/Eighties Song Ever’, while in 2021 it became the first music video from the 1980s to reach a billion YouTube views.
I think it may have arrived, the moment I’ve been anticipating for a while now… The official start of the 1980s.
Too Shy, by Kajagoogoo (their 1st and only #1)
2 weeks, 13th – 27th February 1983
This is the most eighties chart-topper yet. Everything here has been filtered through some kind of ‘80s-ifier: the synths, the electronic drums, the bass, the icy piano… And that’s before you get to the band’s hair-dos… Just look at those mullets! I really like the intro, though: the slow build up and funky bass riff. There’s also a killer, if slightly nonsensical, chorus: You’re too shy shy, Hush hush, Eye to eye…
Singer Limahl’s delivery is also very of its time. It’s very arch, very airy and knowing. I don’t want to plant the ‘New Romantic’ flag, as I don’t think Kajagoogoo were quite that, but that’s where we’re heading. The rest of this song, though…? It’s OK. The nice touches aren’t enough to cover up the fact that it’s a bit lightweight, and a bit dull in places. I’ve heard of ‘landfill indie’… Can this be ‘landfill eighties’?
While the song is fine, we have to take a moment to examine the band name. Potentially one of the worst band names in history? It’s based on the sounds babies make, apparently. Before Kajagoogoo they were known as ‘Art Nouveau’, which is the sort of name you’d give a fictional parody of a new-wave band. They weren’t around for very long. Limahl left after just two years as lead-singer, citing personality differences, and the band officially spilt up in 1985.
I do think this is a moment where any remnants of what went before have been ditched. There’s no disco here, no post-punk or soft rock. Just pure and unadulterated eighties. Even the big, decade-specific acts we’ve met so far – Adam Ant, Culture Club, Human League – didn’t have the mid-eighties glossiness that ‘Too Shy’ has. But I think we’re set now, and about to foray into the deepest depths of it.
And I have to admit that I’m making that statement not based solely on this one record – though it is very now. I’m also making it with one eye on the chart-toppers that will immediately follow. The next five number ones will feature either some of the decade’s biggest stars, or its biggest songs. Kajagoogoo’s ‘Too Shy’ is the appetiser to a giant ‘80s feast that is on its way…
I have to admit, straight off the bat, that the sight of this song on the list aux number ones made me shudder… I try to approach every song with an open-mind, void of prejudice and preconception (an approach which is going to become increasingly difficult when we reach songs I’ve lived through…) But ‘Down Under’ is a song that has always got on my wick.
Down Under, by Men at Work (their 1st and only #1)
3 weeks, 23rd January – 13th February 1983
What is it that annoys me? The flutey bits, the faux-ethnic vibe, the strange accent that it’s delivered in – not an Australian accent – the fact that it isn’t funny enough to be a novelty song, but is funny enough to be irritating… (Though the video, which I had never seen before today, is very goofy, and does make the song a bit more palatable.)
I come from a land down under… Where women glow and men plunder… It is a paeon to being Australian. The singer travels the world, from Brussels to Bombay, and is beloved of all because he comes from a land down under. I once spent a holiday in Thailand with what felt like half of Sydney, all celebrating Australia Day. And every third song they sang was ‘Down Under’… I’m not sure the locals of Koh Samui were all that enamoured of their Aussie visitors, as the beer flowed, and the men chundered…
Having said that, what would improve this song in my eyes would be for it to up its Aussie-ness to the extreme. We need lines about ‘utes’, and being ‘daggy’ (actually this song is pretty damn daggy), and a ‘flaming galah’ or two for good measure. And we need it sung by Joe Mangle from ‘Neighbours’. (Yes, most of my Australian cultural references come from mid-to-late ‘90s soap operas. Strewth!)
In a nice coincidence, ‘Down Under’ is back in the charts as I write this, and the original singer Colin Hay has a credit. (It’s been as high as #5 in the UK.) This new drum ‘n’ bass version, although not the sort of thing I’d usually enjoy, ups the weirdness of the song and somehow works better. For me. I realise that this song is loved by a lot of people, people that aren’t even Australian, but I’ve never really got it.
Men at Work were from Melbourne, and had released ‘Down Under’ in their homeland back in 1981. The band actually wrote it as a comment on how Oz was being ‘Americanised’, and that the Australian things referenced in the song were under threat. While I wouldn’t want to disagree with the songwriter, I’d say that that angle has been completely lost over time. ‘Down Under’ has been voted the ‘2nd Most Australian Song’ ever, presumably just behind ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport’. Away from this hit, Men at Work wouldn’t get back into the Top 20 in Britain. In the US and Australia, though, they enjoyed more success before splitting up in 1986. They are currently touring again, with Colin Hay.
We embark on 1983, then. And we start off with a classic. Well, a version of a classic…
You Can’t Hurry Love, by Phil Collins (his 1st of three #1s)
2 weeks, 9th – 23rd January 1983
I’m a big fan of The Supremes. Who in their right minds isn’t? They only had one (1!) chart-topper in the UK – unlike the States, where they went toe-to-toe with The Beatles for the most #1s in the ‘60s – but they churned out pop gem after pop gem. ‘Baby Love’, ‘Stop! In the Name of Love’, ‘Where Did Our Love Go’, and this ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’. (They loved to ‘love’ in a title…)
All of which is my long-winded way of saying that this song is classic… And, actually, Phil Collins does a decent enough job of covering it. He doesn’t ruin it. He keeps all that makes it great – most notably that much-copied bass intro (which we last heard on the Jam’s ‘Town Called Malice’.) He doesn’t go all ‘eighties’ on us, and he doesn’t strip it back. As a record, it stands out as ‘retro’ among the class of ’82-’83.
In recent months, we’ve seen Captain Sensible, and before him Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin, take fifties and sixties classics and, well, re-invent them. Collins doesn’t do that. But the problem with sticking so close to the original is that it’s clear when it’s not in the same league. Phil Collins is not Diana Ross, in more ways than one. You do wonder why he bothered…? It sounds nothing like his stuff with Genesis, or his biggest previous solo hit: ‘In the Air Tonight’. But then again, it delivered him his first number one. So whatever he was going for worked.
Like The Supremes, Collins had much more (solo) chart success in the USA than in Britain (seven #1s to three). As someone who wasn’t around at the time, he’s always seemed such an unlikely figure for one of the decade’s biggest stars… Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, Phil Collins… It just seems weird.
Then I grew up with him as half-laughing stock beloved by estate agents, half-reclaimed hip-hop icon. He’s never been an easy man to categorise, I suppose. And that’s not a bad thing. But, he will be back atop the UK charts again, so we don’t need to sum his career up just yet. This looks like it’s going to be quite a short post; but I don’t think a straight-forward cover such as this needs much more analysis…
Though if even that was too much, here’s my TL;DR: ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ is a great song, and Phil Collins neither ruins it, nor makes it his own.
Save Your Love, by Renée & Renato (their 1st and only #1)
4 weeks, 12th December 1982 – 9th January 1983
Yes, the British public’s capacity for sending crap to #1 for Christmas knows no bounds. Of the three varieties, ‘novelty dross’ reigns supreme. A middle-aged Italian, and a pretty blonde (though the Renée in the video below and the Renée whose voice you hear were apparently not the same person…) Save your love, My darleeeeng… Strings and trembling guitars complete the ‘Valentine’s in a Bella Italia’ vibe.
Songs like this are never worth the effort of holding up to any sort of examination. You can see what they were going for: Christmas, romance, one for the oldies… Except, it’s so cheap and tacky it’s almost unbearable. Back a decade ago, people put some love into their novelty hits. There was a charm, for me at least, to ‘My Ding-A-Ling’ and ‘Ernie’. But ‘Shaddap You Face’ and the St. Winny’s kids, and now this, are almost aggressive in their cheapness. They know they’re shit, and they’re going to batter you into submission.
Sample rhyming couplet: I can’t wait to hold and kiss you, Don’t you know how much I’ve missed you… If they’d gone for a slightly higher-quality production, and spent more than three minutes on the lyrics, I might actually enjoy this. Maybe. Slightly… It’s got a ‘This Is My Song’, or ‘It’s Now or Never’, Venetian gondolier vibes to it, .
Actually, I can half-imagine Elvis belting this out in Vegas, if he’d still been around in 1982. Renato is, sadly, not Elvis. Technically, he can sing. He sounds like a constipated boar, but he the notes are all in the right place. Renée can hold a tune, in a bland kind of way. Who were they? I did hope that this was some kind of ‘Allo Allo!’ spin-off… Except, Rene was a man in that show. (Although, in a spooky coincidence, ‘Allo Allo!’s pilot aired while ‘Save Your Love’ was on top of the charts…)
This record’s ‘cheapness’ can perhaps be excused by the fact that it was written, produced and released all by a man and wife duo (Johnny and Sue Edwards, not Renée and Renato). It is therefore the first truly ‘indie’ chart-topper which, as someone who lived through the height of indie-snobbery in the ‘90s and ‘00s, I find hilarious. Like I said, I want to enjoy this one, want to embrace the ridiculousness of it… but I can’t. It’s just too much.
Renato Pagliari was genuinely Italian, and had waited tables in a Birmingham trattoria before fame came calling. I say ‘fame’, the follow-up to this made #48 and that was that. Rumour, has it that he was the singer of the famous ‘Just One Cornetto’ jingle, though his son denies it. He was also a big Aston Villa fan, and was invited to perform ‘Nessun Dorma’ to the team at half-time, following a poor first-half showing. Sources are quiet on whether the team played any better afterwards… He passed away in 2009.
Meanwhile, Renée (not her real name) had quit the duo before this record even became a hit. She came back for a few years, but retired from the business before the decade was out. One last thing before I go: the grandiose ending to this song is so familiar, but I just can’t place it. It’s driving me mad trying to think what song it copies… Do let me know if you hear it. Anyway, just like that, we make 1983…
I’m not even sure there’s a guitar involved here. Certainly not a lead guitar. There’s a piano, and lots of horns. It’s slick and glossy. But that’s not to suggest that The Jam have lost their edge. It’s still a great pop song, with a great hook: Come on boy, Come on girl, Succumb to the beat surrender…
And like most Jam songs, it’s lyrically dense. The title is a play on ‘Sweet Surrender’ and the idea of beating a retreat, which makes sense when you realise that this was The Jam’s final release, their farewell single. Weller intended it as a call to their fans, to young, up and coming bands: Seize the young determination, Show the fakers you ain’t foolin’…
The band also drop some pearls of wisdom from their time as one of the country’s biggest acts: Bullshit is bullshit, It just goes by different names… A line that I think – unless I’m forgetting something obvious – delivers our first example of swearing in a #1 single. Lonnie Donegan, The Stones, Billy Connolly have all flirted with it, but didn’t go all the way. It took five hundred and eleven chart-toppers, though, which is impressive. Safe to say this won’t be the last…
I do admire the way that The Jam didn’t stand still, never seemed to recycle a sound or a style, in their five years of success. Here we have a great moment, when the soulful riffs of the first two verses drops down to a galloping disco bassline. It’s a risk, for a rock act, you could alienate your fans by daring to try new things (gasp!). But it didn’t seem to hurt The Jam. ‘Beat Surrender’ entered at #1 – making them the second act to do this three times (after Slade). Of course, announcing that this record was to be their final ever release probably didn’t hurt its chances, and ensured a fair bit of demand…
Though I’d say that it hasn’t remained in the collective memory as much as their three previous number ones. It’s a good one – none of their chart-toppers are anything less than a seven-out-of-ten – but perhaps its success wasn’t just for musical reasons. Anyway, after this Paul Weller formed The Style Council, with whom he continued his chart-success (though they never made it to #1) and then found himself cast as the cool uncle of British rock in the 1990s (‘The Modfather’), enjoying a hugely popular solo career that shows no signs of ending: his latest release topped the album charts just last year. Bruce Foxton, the bassist, formed ‘From the Jam’ in the mid-2000s, and Paul Weller has guested on some of his tracks, though he seems pretty set against a full-on reformation.
I was about to write that this is our first full eighties recap, before I remembered that the last recap actually covered January 1980-June 1981. Which just proves what I wrote in that recap, that the early months of the decade felt like a continuation of the seventies. It wasn’t until the very end of that period, when Adam Ant, Shakin’ Stevens and Bucks Fizz burst on to the scene, that the 1980s seemed to really kick off.
And those three acts play a big part in this recap, too. Shaky had two more rockabilly #1s – one great and one meh – while Adam had a big earworm hit with the Ants and another ear-worm on his own. The Fizz, meanwhile, scored a couple of low-key pop classics, which I might just return to in a bit…
In the last recap, I also wrote that it was possibly the strongest bunch of thirty chart-toppers we had encountered yet. Bowie! ABBA! Blondie!… This last thirty has been a bit more up and down. Some real highs; but some pretty low lows. Let’s start with the good bits, shall we? Some of the most illustrious names in early-eighties pop have reached the summit in the last year and a half: the Specials, Soft Cell, the Jam, Madness, Culture Club, Human League… (In fact, as a snapshot of how much has changed, Christmas 1980 saw John Lennon posthumously hogging top-spot, while Christmas ’81 brought the Human League’s electro-million seller ‘Don’t You Want Me’.)
Problem is – and this may well be a problem that haunts me throughout the eighties – I just haven’t connected with a lot of these classics. I enjoyed ‘House of Fun’ well enough, as I did ‘Come On Eileen’ (while wondering slightly what all the fuss is about). I was a bit bored by ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’. I was ready to punch the air to ‘Eye of the Tiger’, but ended up tired of its pomposity. Is this decade cursed? I grew up with my parents’ sixties and seventies compilations, while the music of the nineties and noughties is the music of my youth. The 1980s is a sort of blank space in-between… If anything, reviewing every one of the decade’s chart-toppers will force me to finally make my mind up about it.
Away from the classics, there were some big swerves into cheesy pop. Some vintage camembert – ‘Japanese Boy’ and Bucks Fizz – and some plastic cheddar – Tight Fit and the Goombay Dance Band. In my posts on the latter two, I wondered if computer generated music was leading to cheaper, disposable pop, as some tunes sounded little more than quickly thrown together karaoke backing tracks. But again, disposable pop wasn’t a 1980s invention, and maybe my biases are again showing.
Other notable moments from the last thirty include… Michael Jackson’s first solo #1 (actually, that re-released ballad went pretty much unnoticed), Julio Iglesias making Spanish-crooner-disco a thing, Kraftwerk appearing out of nowhere (in fact, we had a bit of a run of chart-topping Germans), Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder tackling racial inequality head-on, and our recent Reggae Autumn with the already mentioned Culture Club, alongside Musical Youth and Eddy Grant.
I suppose I should dish out some awards then. Let’s start, as is traditional, with The ‘Meh’ Award for forgettability. I’ve managed to get each award down to a neat top-three this time, and my three for the ‘Meh’ are: ‘One Day in Your Life’, by MJ, ‘Seven Tears’, by the Goombay Dance Band, and ‘A Little Peace’, by Nicole. And I know it’s a bit lazy to give it to the Eurovision ballad – it’ll be the 2nd in a row to win the ‘Meh’ – but they do tend to be pretty dull records. Nicole, sorry dear, you win. At least you’re not being crowned as the worst…
But before we get to that, here’s this recap’s ‘WTAF’ Award, for the chart-topping songs that were interesting if nothing else. The three up for this are: Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin’s bizarre take on ‘It’s My Party’, Captain Sensible’s bizarre take on ‘Happy Talk’, and Julio Iglesias’s smooth smooth take on ‘Begin the Beguine’. All re-imaginings of golden oldies. All a bit odd. The award, though, has to go to Dave and Babs, for what is a weird chart-topper for the ages, and not just for this recap.
To The Very Worst Chart-Topper. The winner of this can console themselves with the fact that nothing I’ve heard this time has been as bad as last recap’s ‘Very Worst’, the angelic tones of St. Winifred’s school choir. But still. There have been stinkers. The shortlist are all from 1982: Tight Fit’s ear-splitting take on ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, Macca and Stevie’s well-intentioned but subtle as a brick ‘Ebony and Ivory’, and Charlene’s preachy ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’. And if you’ve been paying attention, then you know which way this award’s going. I can’t stand sanctimony – ‘No Charge’ and ‘One Day at a Time’ are previous winners – and so Charlene takes it. No amount of tongue-in-cheek covers by drag queens can save it. It’s a howler.
And finally: The Very Best Chart-Topper. I have to admit, unlike the last recap, I don’t love any of them. Not truly. But, there have been some real goodies. The Specials ‘Ghost Town’, for example. That’s the one most people might choose. It’s a great song, and a snapshot of British society in the early ‘80s. But… I would be choosing it partly out of duty, because I feel I should. Then there’s ‘Under Pressure’: David Bowie and Freddie Mercury trying to upstage one another over a classic bassline. And then there’s Bucks Fizz. Yes, Bucks Fizz.
I was genuinely surprised by how good their ‘other’ #1s were. You know, the ones that aren’t ‘Making Your Mind Up’. ‘The Land of Make Believe’ was a pounding pop beauty. ‘My Camera Never Lies’ was an edgy, new-wave mini-classic. Neither was the ‘best’ of the past thirty chart-toppers, but I don’t think I enjoyed any songs more. It was probably the novelty – if ‘Tainted Love’, or ‘Don’t You Want Me’ were as forgotten as Bucks Fizz’s final two chart-toppers then maybe they’d win – but I can’t help that. Taste is subjective. Pop music isn’t meant to be taken seriously. ‘My Camera Never Lies’ is my 17thVery Best Chart-Topper. Because it’s my party, and I’ll choose who I want to!
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.
‘A Little Peace’, by Nicole.
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.
‘It’s My Party’, by Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin.
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.
‘I’ve Never Been to Me’, by Charlene.
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.
The final part of our autumn of reggae comes from Eddy Grant. It’s a cute, catchy tune. But, alas, Eddy does not want to dance to it…
I Don’t Wanna Dance, by Eddy Grant (his 1st and only solo #1)
3 weeks, 7th – 28th November 1982
This record has a likeable homemade feel to it. So homemade, in fact, that I had to double-check that I wasn’t listening to a cheap, karaoke version instead of the original. Once upon a time, not so long ago, the sound of synths in a chart-topper was genuinely exciting. Now they more often tend towards cheap and tacky.
‘I Don’t Wanna Dance’ is a break-up song. But it is such a perky break-up song that you don’t really notice. Eddy is tired of his girl’s flirty ways, and has had enough. I don’t wanna dance, Dance with you baby no more… He’ll remain a gentleman, though. I’ll never do something to hurt you, Though the feeling is bad…
My favourite bit is the unexpectedly scuzzy guitar solo. It’s a really raw moment in what is a pretty safe, reggae-pop number. And in the video he cuts a very Slash-esque figure, plucking it out on a floating raft. Don’t wanna dance, Don’t wanna dance… he chants for the fade-out. It’s an undemanding number, a bit slow and repetitive, but enjoyable enough.
Of the three reggae hits in a row, I’d rate the first one – ‘Pass the Dutchie’ – as my favourite, and this second. ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’ was by far the most culturally significant, and best remembered, but it just didn’t grab me. Though I may be getting ahead of myself – I should save all this retrospection for the upcoming recap.
I did wonder if this was the follow-up to ‘Electric Avenue’ – the Eddy Grant solo hit that pretty much everybody knows – and perhaps rode the wave of that record’s success to top spot. But no, ‘Electric Avenue’ was actually this disc’s follow-up, making #2 in early 1983. And we mustn’t forget that Grant has been at #1 once before. Well over fourteen years earlier, in 1968, he and his band The Equals topped the charts with ‘Baby Come Back’, one of the very, very first #1s with a hint of reggae.
You could link this hit – and the gap between group and solo #1s – to Smokey Robinson, who also waited over a decade before his very own chart-topper away from his group. Eddy Grant continues to record and perform, and released his most recent album in 2017. It was titled ‘Plaisance’, after his hometown, in Guyana. Which is nice. Up next, that recap.
Part two of a three-part reggae autumn, and here’s one of the eighties’ most iconic figures…
Do You Really Want to Hurt Me, by Culture Club (their 1st of two #1s)
3 weeks, 17th October – 7th November 1982
When I think of the 1980s, as someone who didn’t live through it (OK, I lived through almost half of it, but you know what I mean) certain images spring to mind. Huge mobile phones, Thatcher’s hair, Maradona’s hand… And that’s before we get to pop music. Madonna’s blonde curls, Michael Jackson moonwalking, ‘Frankie Says Relax’.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that the eighties has begun, thanks to a glimpse of Boy George’s long hair and beautifully sculpted eyebrows. Again. The ‘80s keep beginning. I said the same thing when we met Adam Ant, and Shakin’ Stevens, and Human League. The ‘sixties’ had a very definitive start-point: the sudden wave of Merseybeat #1s in 1963. The ‘seventies’ meanwhile actually began sometime in mid-1969, with that string of apocalyptic chart-toppers. Stretch your mind back to the fifties and it was Bill Haley who kicked all that off. The eighties, though, has been harder to pin down.
We’re here to talk about music, though, not iconography. Musically, this record isn’t announcing a new dawn. It’s nice, very gentle, reggae. The intro meanders, and the rest of the song never really picks up the pace. My attention, I’ll be honest, starts to wander. Boy George sings it beautifully, which is probably what made this song stand out at the time. That, and the fact that he looks like a girl.
Sorry, that’s obviously not a very ‘2022’ kind of thing to say. But we’re talking about forty years ago, when appearing on Top of the Pops looking like that was to become an instant national sensation. He makes Ziggy Stardust era Bowie look like Dirty Harry. The music wouldn’t have had to be anything special, it was always going to be playing a clear second fiddle. The video backs this up, with George being thrown out of a nightclub, then a swimming pool, then standing trial for simply being himself. Do you really want to hurt me, Do you really want to make me cry…? The jury of black people in blackface is presumably a comment on people acting how society demands, rather than on being true to themselves. (Completely irrelevant side note: that makes two #1s in a row with a music video featuring the artists on trial.)
I do wish I liked this more. It’s a genuine moment at the top of the charts, but I can’t really get into it. The best bit is the middle-eight, when the emotions peak: If it’s love you want from me, Then take it away… But that’s followed by an empty space where some kind of solo should be. There’s just some bass noodling, some light drumming, and an echo. It reminds me of The Police’s ‘Walking on the Moon’, which I found similarly dull.
‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’ was a huge breakthrough for Culture Club. Their only previous chart hit had made #100. Following this, for two years, every single they released would make #4 or higher. Maybe my take on this record is clouded by the fact that I know their monster hit is yet to come… In a year’s time they’ll score one of the biggest chart-toppers of the decade. Maybe that’s when the eighties will officially begin? Or maybe – more likely – I won’t know when the ‘eighties’ began until it’s all over, and I can look back.