528. ‘Uptown Girl’, by Billy Joel

We are now racing through 1983 – no chart-topper in the second half of this year will spend less than three weeks on top. And after six for Culture Club comes five for Billy Joel…

Uptown Girl, by Billy Joel (his 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 30th October – 4th December 1983

In my post on ‘Karma Chameleon’, I pointed out how that song took pleasure in its retro touches. Well, here the retro theme is not just maintained; it’s shoved front and centre. ‘Uptown Girl’ harks fully back to the doo-wop and male vocal groups of the late fifties/early sixties. The eighties are temporarily on hold. It’s a pastiche, yes, but one that’s lovingly done, and that’s certainly good enough to stand up on its own.

Uptown girl, She’s been livin’ in her uptown world… It’s a tale as old as time (or at least as old as the invention of social class structures…) A working class boy besotted with a high class lady (I’ve always liked the lyrical contrast between her ‘white bread world’ and this ‘back street guy’). In the video Billy Joel’s a well-groomed mechanic, with some impressively slick dance moves, and the object of his affections goes from being a pin-up in his locker to riding side-saddle on his motorbike in barely three minutes. It has strong overtones of ‘Grease’, which adds to the fun, campy feel of the song. The uptown girl is played by swimwear model Christie Brinkley. Life imitated art, and less than two years after meeting on the set of ‘Uptown Girl’ they married.

This is a great pop song, timeless in the best possible sense of the word, and one that defies too much critiquing. ‘Uptown Girl’ comes on the radio, and you sing along with the woah-oh-ohs. It’s non-negotiable. I’d even go so far as to say that using the word ‘uptown’ in a song title almost guarantees classic status. To date, there have been three ‘uptown’ #1s: ‘Uptown Top Ranking’ (a classic, dripping in attitude), this (a singalong classic) and another one, still thirty-odd years off, that I’m sure you can guess at (another great pop song).

(This has to be the biggest disconnect between ‘mood of song’ and ‘mood of record sleeve.’.. ever)

The fact that I still like this record is, actually, quite surprising. Not only have I heard it several thousand times (I’d imagine), I also suffered through Westlife’s cover version hitting #1 when I was fifteen. That’ll be along soon enough on this countdown, don’t worry… Actually, as Westlife hits go it’s not that bad – although that’s the very definition of ‘damning with faint praise’. And as if that wasn’t enough, a supermarket chain in Hong Kong, where I live, has used the tune of ‘Uptown Girl’ for an in-store jingle. And when I say ‘in-store’, I mean: In. Every. Single. Bloody. Store. Twenty. Four. Hours. A. Day. The poor checkout staff must suffer PTSD episodes every time they hear this original.

A song that can survive both Westlife covers and terminal overplaying as a supermarket jingle must have something truly great at its core. ‘Uptown Girl’ was good enough to give Billy Joel his sole #1 single in the UK, in marked contrast to his US chart career. I once read a theory suggesting that Joel isn’t as big in Britain because we already have Elton John to fill our piano-based balladeering needs. Which is an interesting theory, until you remember that Elton is as big in America as he is across the Atlantic. Whatever the reason, and despite not being short of hits, this was indeed Joel’s only chart-topper. But if you’re only going to have one chart-topper, you might as well make it a million-selling, 2nd biggest hit of 1983, 19th biggest hit of the decade kind of chart-topper…

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527. ‘Karma Chameleon’, by Culture Club

In which we arrive at a mega-hit. The biggest song of the year, a number one in thirty countries, the longest stay at #1 so far this decade, and the… checks notes… thirty-eighth biggest seller of all time!

Karma Chameleon, by Culture Club (their 2nd and final #1)

6 weeks, from 18th September – 30th October 1983

Right from its nifty little intro, this is a record that pulls out all the stops in its efforts to burrow into your brain. It’s jaunty, it’s fast-paced, with lots of little retro flourishes, and with a hook that just won’t quit: Karma (x5) Chameleon, You come and go… You come and go…. It’s the purest of pop, from the biggest pop group of the moment. You can see why it was so huge.

Purest pop, but not perfect pop. ‘Karma Chameleon’ falls short of the level of, say, ‘Dancing Queen’, or ‘Heart of Glass’. (Too much harmonica, for a start… And the lyrics are a kind of pretty-sounding nonsense.) But that’s a fairly unreachably high bar I’m setting. This song’s best bit – the middle-eight where Boy George’s voice soars through the Every day, Is like survival, You’re my lover, Not my rival… line – can rank among the best moments of the decade. Then it descends into a marching beat, which flirts very heavily with the cheesy side of things.

In fact, the entirety of this record is one big flirtation with cheese. It stays on the right side, though, for the most part (harmonicas excepted). In the video, Boy George sits astride a Mississippi steamboat, looking as fabulous as ever. It is interesting that a band as provocative as Culture Club have two such safe chart-toppers to their name. ‘Karma Chameleon’, as good as it is, could have been recorded by Bucks Fizz (the drum beat here is really similar to ‘Making Your Mind Up’…) while ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’ was, to my ears, a little dull. Maybe, though, the fact that their music was so accessible is a good thing, meaning that Boy George was beamed into family homes around the world as they scored hit after hit. Fathers scowled, mothers tutted, and all the kids who didn’t fit in secretly saw hope…

Having said that, I’d still have taken the stomping, Motown-esque ‘Church of the Poison Mind’ to have been the mega million-selling hit over this. Culture Club did have an edge to them, it just isn’t to be found in their #1s. They were also at the peak of their powers here: between October 1982 and October ’84 the band saw seven singles chart no lower than #4…

They would split up soon afterwards though, in acrimony and drug addiction. They wouldn’t work together for twelve years, until their 1998 comeback. Which must have been a big deal, as it filtered through into the consciousness of twelve-year-old me. I remember their comeback single, ‘I Just Wanna Be Loved’ well, and liked it at the time. Boy George, meanwhile, will feature in this countdown under his own steam before too long.

I mentioned in the intro that ‘Karma Chameleon’s six-week stay was the longest run at the top since 1979, and it means that we are suddenly racing through to the finish of 1983. Our next #1 is a big ‘un too. I also mentioned this record’s ‘retro flourishes’ which, added to KC & The Sunshine Band’s disco touches, and UB40’s reggae rhythms, means the ’80s are suddenly sounding a little less ’80s’. Whether I think this is a good or a bad thing… I’ll leave that for you to decide.

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526. ‘Red Red Wine’, by UB40

If writing blog posts on the past five hundred and twenty-six UK #1s has taught me anything – and I’m not sure that it really has – then it is this: I like reggae…

Red Red Wine, by UB40 (their 1st of three #1s)

3 weeks, from 28th August – 18th September 1983

I was never that convinced by the genre, having spent too much time in beach bars on holiday, where the same dull ‘reggae chill-out’ playlists are looped year on year. But tracking the genre’s progress, from Desmond Dekker, past ‘Double Barrell’, Johnny Nash and Althea & Donna, to last year’s Reggae Autumn, I realise that I’ve enjoyed most of it. And when this record’s slow-shuffling rhythm kicks in, my heart does a little flip…

Red, red wine… Goes to my head… It’s a song about drinking, which is usually a good thing, even if it is about drinking away your misery… Just one thing, Makes me forget… Red, red wine… It’s laid-back, it’s cool, the chimes in the background sound like my school bell. It’s a bit lightweight, I guess, if you wanted to nit-pick, but it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

The video ties in with the theme, set as it is in a pub. The band order beers, though, not red, red wine. I suppose it would have been a bit of a stretch, in 1983, to have a bunch of Birmingham lads ordering bottles of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Sadly, though, this #1 isn’t heralding a second consecutive Reggae Autumn. Unlike in 1982, when we went from Musical Youth, to Culture Club, to Eddy Grant, this is an isolated outbreak.

UB40 had been around since the end of the seventies, and were no strangers to the Top 10 in the early eighties. Their name famously derives from the form used to sign-on for benefits at the time (Unemployment Benefit, Form 40). I suppose their early fans might have viewed their first chart-topping hit as a bit of a sell-out moment, lacking the edge of some of their earlier hits, but I have no such history with the band and am enjoying it!

I have to admit, though, my shock in discovering that this isn’t the original version of ‘Red Red Wine’. OK, the fact it’s a cover doesn’t shock me… The fact that it was written in the first place by the famously un-reggae Neil Diamond, does. UB40 didn’t base their cover on his country-ish ballad, but on Jamaican singer Tony Tribe’s version from a couple of years later. Diamond, though, loves these takes on his original, and often performs it live in a reggae style nowadays.

There is an six-minute, extended version of this record, featuring an extended toast/rap from band member Astro (who sadly passed away just last year), but I doubt many people have heard it. That version does start to outstay its welcome… Perhaps, though, it explains the record’s belated success in the US. (It wouldn’t reach #1 there for another five years, until UB40 performed it at a concert for Nelson Mandela.)

They’ll be back on top of the charts shortly, UB40. In fact, they have a pretty impressive span between their three chart-toppers (almost a decade), and are tied with Madness for the most weeks on the UK charts in the 1980s. Impressive longevity. I’ll finish with a joke (not an original one, sadly, but still…) If you were one year old when this record came out, UB40 now…

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525. ‘Give It Up’, by KC & The Sunshine Band

Back when I was a student at university, I worked part-time in bowling alley. It was a great job, with great friends, and I had a great time… Why do I bring it up now though, at the start of this post? Because I hear the opening bars of our next #1, and am instantly transported back to AMF Bowling circa. 2005…

Give It Up, by KC & The Sunshine Band (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 7th-28th August 1983

The lights are dimmed, save for flashing neon and spinners – Saturday night means ‘Disco Bowl’ – and the DJ we get in especially for these occasions has just started playing ‘Give It Up’, as he does every single weekend. I am probably cleaning up a spill on Lane 12. Everybody wants you… Everybody wants your love…

It’s a fond memory, and I never grew to hate this song – no matter that I heard it every weekend for three solid years. How can anyone truly hate this song? It’s the very definition of a fun, throwaway hit. And yet… I don’t love it, and that’s not simply down to overplaying. There’s something about it that’s always sounded a little forced, a little soulless. It’s a catchy song, but the nanananananas and the funky synths feel pre-programmed, almost cynical, while the singer – KC himself – doesn’t really sound like he’s enjoying himself.

There are probably prejudices at work here… I think ‘Give It Up’ lacks some of the funky rawness of the Sunshine Band’s big seventies hits: ‘That’s the Way (I Like It)’, ‘Shake Your Booty’ and the like. And yes, despite promising to try not mentioning 1980’s production values in my last post… I think that the 1980’s production is the problem here. That glossy, electronic sheen. Or maybe all those years of hearing it like clockwork have at least dulled my senses, and my ability to analyse this record, even if they haven’t made me actively dislike it.

This was a bit of a comeback for KC & The Sunshine Band, who had had plenty of huge disco smashes in the ’70s (including five US #1s), but who had struggled in the new-wave, ‘disco sucks’ years. Credit to them then, for regrouping, adopting the sounds of the time, and getting one final hit, their biggest by far in Britain. The band were led by Harry Wayne Casey (‘KC’, gettit?) and a revolving cast of musicians who made up The Sunshine Band, and when I say one final hit I mean it: they never went higher than #59 after this swansong… They’ve been around though, in one form or another, since re-forming in the early 1990s.

Maybe I’m being a bit harsh on this one. I have had it forced on me an incredible number of times and still don’t hate it… That must mean there’s something great in there, right? And isn’t memory a strange thing? Certain sounds instantly transporting you somewhere… The clatter of bowling pins, the sound of a drink being spilled over on Lane 12, the opening bars of ‘Give It Up’ by KC & The Sunshine Band…

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524. ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)’, by Paul Young

Delving deeper into the decade, we arrive at another synthed-up, peak-eighties sounding hit…

Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home), by Paul Young (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, 17th July – 7th August 1983

First things first, let’s mention the things I like about this record. The bassline, or whatever effect has been applied to it, is very eighties but very cool. It’s bendy, and twangy. It sounds like a beast emerging from the depths… There’s an ominous edge to its funk, that reminds me of something I can’t place.

Then there’s Paul Young’s voice, which is also good. A strong, blue-eyed soul voice, that takes command of this song, and sings it with conviction. For I’m the type of the boy, Who is always on the run… You could argue that he over sings it at times, but it’s fine. He’s listing all the ways he’s a dick to women: he loves and leaves them, he gives them the eye before upping sticks and disappearing… It’s basically ‘Desperado’, sung from Desperado’s POV. I think we’re meant to pity him, to sense a hint of regret, or false bravado, in his voice, but I’m not sure we do. In the video, meanwhile, one of the women he’s dumped returns to shoot him… Or, at least he dreams she does.

Away from the bass, and the voice… I’m already checking the runtime. It’s a bit dull. And the dullness lies, yes, in the production. It’s very polished, perfect for playing in the background at a dinner party, but I’m not getting ‘number one single’. Rather, I’m not getting ‘number one single at any time other than mid-1983’. It’s very of its time. If you love eighties music, you’ll like this. If not, then it’ll drag…

I did wonder if ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat’ perhaps followed Young’s bigger hits. I could name ‘Love of the Common People’ and ‘Every Time You Go Away’ ahead of this. It smacks of ‘shadow number one’ (a concept I’ve explained in other posts). But no. This was his breakthrough hit. ‘…Common People’ made #2 as the follow-up to this, and ‘Every Time…’ #4 a couple of years later.

I was also amazed to find that this song dates from as far back as 1962. And that it was originally recorded by one Marvin Gaye. Two more different versions of the same song you will struggle to find. The original’s Motown vibe, while far from being a classic, just sounds better to my ears. I have been programmed from a very young age to prefer the sixties, and seventies, to the eighties… Earlier, when I wondered what this bassline reminded of, perhaps it just reminds me of ‘the mid-1980s’ in general…

The last time I focused so much (nay, complained…) about the ‘sound’ of the time was way back in the pre-rock days, when I despaired of the never-ending parade of overwrought ballads occupying top spot for weeks on end. I’ll try not to focus so much on the fact that the 1980s has a certain sound. It just does. It’s the summer of 1983. Paul Young is #1. Get over it!

Young won’t be chart-topping under his own steam again, but he’ll have hits until the early ‘90s. He is still touring and recording as we speak. His voice will appear at #1 again, though. In fact, next year he will utter one of the most famous lines in British pop history… Until then, then…

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523. ‘Baby Jane’, by Rod Stewart

Following on from The Police, another superstar act returns for a final bow atop the UK singles charts…

Baby Jane, by Rod Stewart (his 6th and final #1)

3 weeks, 26th June – 17th July 1983

And if we might continue the comparison for a few moments more… This record isn’t as ‘good’, or as well-regarded, as ‘Every Breath You Take’. But it’s a lot more fun to listen to…

Baby Jane, Don’t leave me hangin’ on the line… I knew you when you had no one to talk to… Lyrically, it’s a throwback to Rod’s earliest hits – ‘Maggie May’ and ‘You Wear It Well’ – in that he’s singing about an old flame. One who loved him and left him, and who now moves in ‘high society’. Musically, though, he’s slap-bang in 1983, with a synth riff and an outrageous saxophone solo (I’m often quite down on sax solos, but this one’s a belter.)

Actually, it’s not completely given over to the sounds of the day. The beat that drives this song along, and that makes it such a fun listen, is decidedly disco. (I miss disco…) Rod’s last #1 had come almost five years before – ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy’ – and ‘Baby Jane’ was a bit of a comeback hit for him (he’d only had one Top 10 single between these two chart-toppers.) It was a wise decision to keep the disco guitars and drums, for me, and not to go completely electronic.

I mentioned it in an earlier post, but it’s interesting that the run of huge eighties hits we are on have largely been released by established stars, or those on the comeback trail: Michael Jackson, Bonnie Tyler, Bowie, now Rod Stewart. Bowie is perhaps the most obvious comparison for Rod, and his performance on ‘Let’s Dance’, while iconic nowadays, wasn’t typical of a dance record. I’m not sure he enjoyed making ‘Let’s Dance’, as much as Rod enjoyed ‘Baby Jane’. Just listen to the Yeah! before the final chorus.

Fans of Rod the Mod, who enjoyed his work with the Faces, and his earlier, acoustic, solo hits, are probably as down on ‘Baby Jane’ as they are on ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy’. And I can understand, to an extent. Sir Rod hasn’t always exercised the greatest quality control over his work. But then again, I think most people could find it in themselves to enjoy this big, dumb puppy dog of a song; while recognising that it’s not among his very best.

This may be the end of Rod Stewart’s chart-topping career, but he’d go on scoring big hits well into the 1990s. Which is in itself very impressive: he was thirty-eight when ‘Baby Jane’ made #1, and has a twelve year span between his first and last number ones – a longevity that not many acts can boast of. His most recent album made #5 last Christmas, while he has also branched out into model railwaying, and drunken Scottish cup draws. Here’s to Sir Rod, then, a true legend, in more ways than one…

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522. ‘Every Breath You Take’, by The Police

We’re back among the classics, after a dubious (though admittedly catchy) detour with New Edition. The Police then, with their final, and their biggest, chart-topper.

Every Breath You Take, by The Police (their 5th and final #1)

4 weeks, 29th May – 26th June 1983

I press play, and before the song is halfway through questions begin to arise. Has this record been dulled by repetition? (At any given moment of the day, a radio station somewhere is playing ‘Every Breath You Take’.) Is it just that little bit too glossy, too polished? Has Sting’s voice tipped over the edge into soft-rock crooning…?

Don’t get me wrong, the opening riff, and the simple but effective chord progression thereafter, is a great hook. It can take its place among pop’s great moments. It’s a record that begins with complete confidence in itself… but I’m not sure it builds upon this strong start. It comes close with the How my poor heart aches, With every step you take… line, which is great. But the rest of the song is a bit cold, a bit clinical and, by the end, a bit boring…

Perhaps the problem’s not musical, but lyrical. It’s become a cliché to point out that this is a stalker’s anthem, but it’s true. It’s not a nice song. Every single day, Every word you say… It’s clearly about a possessive, jealous, and potentially dangerous, lover watching his ex. Yet take the title by itself, with the lines about hearts aching and people belonging to one another, and you can convince yourself that it’s a love song. Apparently it some people play it at their weddings…

I was ready for this to finally redeem The Police in my eyes, to show me why they were the biggest band of the late-seventies and early-eighties, as I’d struggled to love their previous #1s. But it hasn’t… In fact, turns out my favourite is their first: ‘Message in a Bottle’. I just didn’t realise it at the time. I’m in the minority on this, though, it seems – ‘Every Breath You Take’ is a Rolling Stone / Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Greatest of All Time kind of tune. In 2015 it was voted the UK’s favourite ‘80s #1, and in 2019 it was named the ‘most played song in radio history’, taking over from ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’.

You could compare The Police with another band we’ve recently bid farewell to on this countdown: The Jam. Both rose out of the punk scene in the late seventies to become two of the biggest British new wave bands. Both left their punk roots far behind, but The Jam did so with a sense of exploration – look at the funky ‘Precious’ and the Motown influenced ‘Town Called Malice’. Whereas The Police went down a more soft-rock route, culminating in this monster hit.

And it is a good song, I’m not writing it off completely. But it’s a little too cold, too negative, and too overplayed, to be a favourite. To finish, here’s a very tenuous link between this record, and the previous #1 I mentioned in the intro. ‘Candy Girl’ was the first rap chart-topper… while ‘Every Breath You Take’ will be heavily sampled in what I believe is the best-selling rap single ever released…

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521. ‘Candy Girl’, by New Edition

Hmm… On the one hand, you could argue that this next #1 emphatically breaks the run of eighties classics that we’ve been enjoying. On the other, you could argue that this record is as much an eighties classic as ‘Billie Jean’ or ‘Let’s Dance’

Candy Girl, by New Edition (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, 22nd – 29th May 1983

I mean ‘classic’ not so much in the sense that this song is any good; but that it is jam-packed with eighties flourishes. There is no mistaking when this record was released. And this is American eighties. We’ve had lots of ‘British’ eighties over the past three years, in the new-wave, post punk, New Romantic acts that have topped the charts. The 2nd British invasion is well underway but, as the decade wears on things will get a lot more US-led. Starting here…

Candy girl, You are my world… First things first, this is a pretty blatant rip-off of The Jackson 5’s ‘ABC’. And not just in terms of the melody: we’ve got five young, black Americans bringing a bright and peppy pop tune to the top of the charts. (They weren’t shy about the comparison either: the group’s name refers to them being a ‘new edition’ of the Jacksons.) Second things second: we’ve got rapping!

We’ve had bands toy with rap – mainly reggae acts like Dave & Ansil Collins and Musical Youth (who are another point of comparison with New Edition) – but this is the first genuine hip-hop number one. No other genre will dominate the next forty years of the charts as much as rap, so this is a bit of a moment. My girl’s like candy, A candy treat, She knocks me right off my feet… People complain about modern hip-hop lyrics, but… My girl’s the best and that’s no lie, She tells me I’m her only guy… Give me ‘WAP’ any day of the week.

It’s not just the rapping that makes this sound so modern though. The beat is clear and heavy – a glimpse ahead to new jack swing later in the decade – and the squelchy, farty synths are almost a voice in their own right. Which isn’t a good thing… Someone was let loose on the decks, and needed to be reined in. By the end they’re mimicking ‘ring a ring a roses’ like a demented playground chant…

In a classic boy-band debut single move, there’s a break to allow an introduction to the members who will soon be adorning bedroom walls the world over. Check out Mike and Bobby’s ladies… Ooh-wee… What about Ronnie’s? She’s bad… It’s incredibly cringey, but these moments always are. I’m forty years too late, and thirty years too old, to appreciate it.

If that write up sounded harsh then I didn’t really mean it to. I have to admit I’m enjoying this… Sort of. If you’re going to build a song so obviously around ‘ABC’ then you’re giving yourself a solid foundation. There’s an endearing energy to it, the boys were all just fourteen or fifteen when this was released, even if the farty synths and the high-pitched voices are a bit too much. Plus there is one of the clunkiest key-changes ever heard in a chart-topping single.

This was New Edition’s first ever release, and for some reason the UK took to them much quicker than the US (‘Candy Girl’ only made #46 on the Hot 100). In the long run, though, their American chart success would be much more long-lasting, reaching well into the 1990s. The members would also try their hand away from the group, the most prominent career being that of founder Bobby Brown’s (and not always for musical reasons…)

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520. ‘True’, by Spandau Ballet

Down your bottle of fizzy pop, pluck up the courage to talk to that boy or girl you’ve been avoiding all evening… For we are in last dance territory with this next number one…

True, by Spandau Ballet (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, 24th April – 22nd May 1983

Is ‘True’ the ultimate ‘last dance at the school disco’ tune? I’m pretty sure they were still playing it fifteen years later, when it was my turn trying to blend into the shadows at the back of the gym. The tempo is perfect for a slow clinch, and the Ha Ha Ha Ha Haaii sound like a lovestruck swoon. They work well as a hook, combined with I know this much is… true!

I also like the chiming, one-note guitars, that sound like an eighties update of the guitars from any number of fifties ballads. But, I don’t think I’ve ever listened to the verses. And, sitting down to listen to them now, they’re the sort of verses that slip right by you. They’re unremarkable, and bland to the point of incomprehensibility. Take your seaside arms and write the next line… References to sand, and Marvin Gaye, delivered in the deliberate New Romantic style. Is it even a love song?

I could say that this was a record with some great moments, floating along in a sea of gloop, and be done with it. Except the ending saves it. The way Tony Hadley finally lets loose and gives the last I’ve bought a ticket to the world… line his all is a punch the air moment. And the This much is tru-ue… fade out is perfect for finally going in for that sloppy smooch.

I’d say that any ‘Best of the ‘80s’ compilation worth its salt has to have ‘True’. In truth, the compilation would also have to have all of our past five number ones: ‘Billie Jean’, ‘Total Eclipse…’, ‘Let’s Dance’ and Duran Duran, though perhaps a better-remembered song than ‘Is There Something I Should Know?’ And while ‘True’ isn’t in the same league as the likes of ‘Billie Jean’, it deserves its place in the 1980s pantheon. In fact, the moment midway through, where there’s a pause and then BOOM: saxophone solo, is as eighties as you can ever get.

I’m enjoying this more than I thought I would. I thought it would be too gloopy, but there are enough catchy moments to see it through. The biggest problem is that it’s way too long. The album version is six and a half minutes long, for goodness sake. There is a single edit, but even that runs to 5:30. Not much of an ‘edit’… And excruciating if you’ve been roped into dancing with a girl you’d been trying to avoid all night… (I may be talking from experience, here…)

It’s surprising that this is Spandau Ballet’s one and only chart-topper. Like Duran Duran – a band they exist in complete conjunction with in my mind – they had been scoring hits since the early eighties (usually with more up-tempo songs than this one). And like Duran Duran their fortunes would fade by the end of the decade (though DD have had a couple more successful chart comebacks than Spandau…) They split up in the ‘90s, though they have reformed for tours in the past ten years or so. And I have to show my age before we finish, by admitting that for years I knew them primarily as the band Martin Kemp from ‘EastEnders’ was once in…

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519. ‘Let’s Dance’, by David Bowie

Ah…. Ah…. Ah…. Ah….! Bowie’s back. His 4th number one might not be his very best – it would take something to outdo ‘Space Oddity’ – but it’s definitely his biggest, brightest, catchiest moment on top of the pop charts.

Let’s Dance, by David Bowie (his 4th of five #1s)

3 weeks, 3rd – 24th April 1983

I love the mix of sixties pop – the intro ripped from ‘Twist and Shout’, the background harmonising, and the woozy horns – with hard-edged eighties funk. Let’s dance! the Duke commands… Put on your red shoes and dance the blues… And you are powerless to resist. Like ‘Billie Jean’, when a DJ launches this one down your local disco then they know what they are doing.

But as with ‘Billie Jean’, this record isn’t just a simple dance number. It’s David Bowie, and there’s an edge to it, a hidden strain of weirdness. Not so much in the lyrics, more in the way he delivers them. The yelped: Tremble like a flow-er! for example, stands out, as does the Under the moonlight, The serious moonlight! There’s a gravel in Bowie’s voice here, a soulful edge that wasn’t present in any of this three earlier #1s. He sounds like he’s enjoying belting this out, reborn after the lost years of the late-seventies, but there’s also an edge to his voice you don’t often get in dance music.

There’s also some weirdness in the video, which features two Aboriginal Australians trying on the red shoes in the song, and being transported to a capitalist wonderland of jewellery shops and posh restaurants. In the end they smash the shoes, and dance their way back into the outback. I’m not sure the song needs such a statement video, and it perhaps stems from Bowie’s discomfort at releasing such a commercial record.

I fully admit to sometimes not getting David Bowie. I love his glam hits, and two of his three previous chart-toppers, ‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Under Pressure’. (‘Ashes to Ashes’ was less of a smash with me.) But I get this one. What’s not to get? If anything, I’m properly realising just how great ‘Let’s Dance’ is, in all its funky glory. The funk here is brought by the song’s producer, Nile Rodgers. His influence is all over it, and not just in the fact he plays guitar on the recording. (The solo at the end, meanwhile, is performed by Stevie Ray Vaughan.) Bowie had written it as folk number, until Rodgers came along.

As great as it is, the success of ‘Let’s Dance’ sent David Bowie off course for the rest of the decade. He confessed that the MTV success of this single and the subsequent album, and the newer, younger fans that it brought him, left him unsure of his direction. But let’s not worry about that for now. In this moment, we can celebrate what is perhaps his ultimate singles chart moment, a good fifteen years into his career as a chart star.

That’s an interesting point. We’re right in the middle of a run of era-defining singles, that are launching the 1980s as we know it. But only really Duran Duran could be described as an ‘eighties’ act, and even they were several years into their career. Bowie, Michael Jackson and Bonnie Tyler were all seventies, if not sixties, veterans. But it is they who are at the forefront of this bright new era.

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