So, to recap…
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 17th Very 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.
- ‘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.
- ‘My Camera Never Lies’, by Bucks Fizz.